It’s easy to confuse Medicare and Medicaid, because they have similar names and are both government programs that pay for health care. But there are important differences between the programs. Medicare is generally for older people, while Medicaid is for people with limited income and resources.
What Is Medicare?
Medicare is a fee-for-service federal health insurance program that provides reasonably priced health insurance for retired individuals, regardless of their medical condition, and for certain disabled individuals, regardless of age. It is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
What Is Medicaid?
Medicaid is a health insurance assistance program that is jointly administered by state and federal governments. Medicaid serves financially needy individuals who are also elderly, disabled, blind, or parents of minor children.
Who Is Eligible for Medicare?
You are eligible for premium-free Part A (hospital insurance) if you are age 65 or older and you (or your spouse) worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years. If you (or your spouse) did not pay Medicare taxes while you worked, and you are age 65 or older and a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you may be able to buy Part A. Medicare coverage also may be available for disabled individuals and people with end-stage renal disease.
While most people do not have to pay a premium for Part A, everyone must pay for Part B if they want it. This monthly premium is deducted from your Social Security, Railroad Retirement, or Civil Service Retirement benefit.
Who Is Eligible for Medicaid?
Each state has different rules about eligibility and applying for Medicaid. To qualify, you must be a resident of the state in which you are applying and a U.S. citizen (or have qualified immigration status). While eligibility varies by state, federal law requires states to cover certain groups of individuals. Low-income families, qualified pregnant women and children, and individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are examples of mandatory eligibility groups. In addition, a financial eligibility requirement must be met. The individual must be financially needy, which is determined by income and asset limitation tests.
What Does Medicare Cover?
Currently, Medicare consists of four parts: Original Medicare Part A helps cover costs related to inpatient care in a hospital, a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and home health care. Original Medicare Part B helps cover services from doctors and other health-care providers, outpatient care, ambulance services, lab tests, physical therapy, durable medical equipment (like wheelchairs, walkers, and hospital beds), and many preventive services such as screenings and vaccines. Medicare Advantage (Part C) replaces Parts A and B and enables beneficiaries to receive health care through managed care plans such as health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organizations. Medicare Part D helps cover the costs of prescription drugs.
What Does Medicaid Cover?
Each state administers its own Medicaid program within broad federal guidelines. Thus, states determine the amount, duration, and types of benefits that Medicaid will provide. Typical Medicaid programs cover inpatient and outpatient hospital services; physician and surgical services; lab tests and X-rays; family planning services, preventive care, including immunizations, mammograms, colonoscopies, and other needed care; mental health care; and services for pregnant women. There are also numerous optional benefits that states may offer.
Can You Be Covered by Both Medicare and Medicaid?
Some people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid are called “dual eligibles.” If you have Medicare and full Medicaid coverage, most of your health-care costs are likely covered.
What About Long-Term Care?
Most long-term care isn’t medical care, but rather help with basic personal tasks of everyday life, called custodial care. Medicare does not pay for custodial care. However, Medicare may pay for skilled care (e.g., nursing, physical therapy) provided in a Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility for up to 100 days. States have considerable leeway in determining benefits offered and services provided by their respective Medicaid programs. Generally, if you meet your state’s eligibility requirements, Medicaid will cover nursing home services, home and community-based services, and personal care services.