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1. Medicare Essentials

The articles below will help you learn about Medicare terms, common questions, deadlines and penalties.

estimated read time: 5 ARTICLES, 27 MINUTES total

Make sure you know key facts about Medicare before enrolling. Review the statements below and click the arrows on the left for more information. Once you understand each statement, click the box on the right.

Learning Checklist

Medicare consists of four parts:


Part A helps pay for inpatient stays in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, some home health services and end-of-life hospice care.


Part B helps pay for doctor and outpatient care. It also helps cover diagnostic tests and some medical equipment and supplies.


Part C, better known as Medicare Advantage, is a private insurer alternative to original Medicare, and most plans include Part D prescription drug coverage.


Part D helps cover the cost of outpatient prescription drugs through plans from private insurers.

As you approach age 65, you generally want to sign up for parts A and B of Medicare during your initial enrollment period — unless you’re receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits and are automatically enrolled. This seven-month period spans the three months before the month in which you turn 65 until three months after.


If you miss that deadline, you may have to wait to enroll during Medicare’s annual general enrollment period and you could have gaps in your insurance coverage. You also may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for the rest of your life unless you qualify for a special enrollment period.

Original Medicare, also known as traditional Medicare, consists of Part A hospitalization and Part B doctors' services and outpatient care. It generally doesn’t cover routine dental care, eye exams, hearing aids, medical expenses when traveling outside the United States, prescription drugs and nursing home care. It also has out-of-pocket costs.

Medicare Advantage,
a private insurance alternative to original Medicare, usually covers prescription drugs and may cover dental work, emergency care outside the U.S., hearing aids and vision care.

Part D plans cover some prescription drug costs for both traditional Medicare recipients and Medicare Advantage participants who don’t have drug coverage included.

Medicare supplement plans, known as Medigap policies, help with original Medicare’s deductibles and cost sharing. Some plans offer foreign travel coverage. These plans can’t be used when you choose Medicare Advantage.

Long-term care insurance can help cover home care and nursing home expenses for anyone.