The Medicare program was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in the summer of 1965. It is designed to provide health insurance to adults aged 65 and over, as well as younger people with disabilities. But the program actually dates back to President Teddy Roosevelt and President Harry Truman.

Roosevelt included Medicare in his presidential campaign platform in 1912. In 1945, Truman unsuccessfully fought for a national health insurance program with a special focus on coverage for older adults and people with disabilities. It wasn’t until President Johnson’s term when Congress actually enacted the necessary legislation and the program kicked off in 1966. President Truman and his wife, Bess, were the first two people to enroll in Medicare.

Today, Medicare gives retirees greater financial security. But it can be confusing for those about to enroll in the program. Let’s take a look at some of the basics you’ll need to know to get started with Medicare.

Medicare 101 for New Enrollees

First, it helps to understand how the Medicare program is organized. There are four parts and each is assigned a different letter: A, B, C, and D. Here’s a quick overview of each:

  • Medicare Part A: Often referred to as the “hospital benefit,” part A covers part or all of hospital stays, short-term rehabilitation at a skilled nursing center, hospice care, and skilled home health services.
  • Medicare Part B: Medicare Part B is designed to cover two primary types of care: medically necessary services and preventative services. That could include doctor visits, outpatient therapy, mental health treatment, laboratory testing, cardiac rehab, mammograms, flu shots, and more.
  • Medicare Part C: This part of Medicare is comprised of Medicare Advantage plans. Through these replacement plans, private insurance companies contract with Medicare to provide health care coverage to seniors. These plans may have lower out-of-pocket costs and may even include prescription drugs.
  • Medicare Part D: If you opt for traditional Medicare instead of a Medicare Advantage plan, you can sign up for prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D. In most cases, you need to sign up for drug coverage at the time you enroll in Medicare. If you don’t, you’ll pay a penalty when you decide to sign on. Use the Medicare Plan Finder to explore drug plan options in your zip code.

Answering Commonly Asked Questions About Medicare

If you are like most adults preparing to sign up for Medicare, you have many questions. Here are the answers to two of the most common.

Q: How much does Medicare cost?

A: Because most seniors (or their spouse) pay into Medicare through their employer, Part A of the benefit is usually free. But there is a monthly premium for Part B coverage and, if you opt for it, Part D. In 2024, Medicare Part B is $174.70 per month. While Part D pricing varies, the average monthly cost for basic benefit coverage in 2024 is $34.50.

Q: Does Medicare pay 100% of an enrollee’s health care expenses?

A: Unfortunately, like all health care plans, Medicare has deductibles and limits. The exception may be if you choose a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t have deductibles. Adults who select traditional Medicare might want to consider purchasing what is known as Medigap insurance. It helps pay for those expenses Medicare doesn’t. 2024 Choosing a Medigap Policy can help you learn more.

Finally, if you need more clarification between Medicare Parts A and B, this article might be of interest. It covers everything from coverage and costs to open enrollment.