Getting started with Medicare
By Cindy Burdick, MD
Medical Director, Medicare and Medicaid, Washington Permanente Medical Group
If you’re new to Medicare, all the parts and terms and rules can be confusing and overwhelming. But learning a few basics will give you the information you need to start sorting through your options—and finding the coverage that best meets your needs.
1. Medicare is health insurance you can get at age 65.
This program is administered by the U.S. government through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). If you’re a U.S. citizen, you automatically qualify for Medicare once you reach age 65 or have collected disability benefits for a certain amount of time.
2. Medicare Part A is hospital insurance.
It helps pay for inpatient care in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and long-term care hospitals. If you’ve worked in the United States and paid Medicare taxes for about 10 years (40 quarters), your Part A coverage is free. If you don’t qualify for free Part A, you can buy this coverage from the government.
3. Medicare Part B is medical insurance.
It covers doctor services and outpatient care, and has a monthly premium. The premium is deducted from your monthly Social Security check or billed quarterly if you’re not yet receiving Social Security benefits. If you’re covered by an employer’s health plan after you turn 65, because you or your spouse are continuing to work, you may want to postpone enrollment in Part B until later. (You can enroll up to eight months after your other coverage ends without penalty.)
Original Medicare is the combination of Parts A and B. If you are already collecting Social Security benefits, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B and will receive your Medicare card three months prior to your 65th birthday. If you’re still working and not collecting Social Security benefits, you’ll need to sign up.
4. Medicare Advantage and Part C are the same thing.
They combine your benefits from Parts A, B, and sometimes D (prescription drug coverage) in a single plan and are an alternative to Original Medicare. Often, Medicare Advantage plans include vision, hearing, and dental benefits, and health and wellness programs, so the coverage is more robust than what you get through Original Medicare.
These plans are offered by private companies and must be approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). To qualify for enrollment, you must be eligible for Part A and enrolled in Part B. You may have to pay a premium for the Medicare Advantage plan, and you must continue to pay your Part B premium.
5. Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage.
This optional benefit is offered through private companies and has a monthly premium. You can get Part D as a stand-alone drug plan, or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan that includes both your medical and prescription drug coverage—known as an MAPD plan.
You're eligible for Part D if you have Medicare Part A and/or Part B, you live in your chosen plan's service area, and you don't already have prescription drug coverage through your employer or union, COBRA, or other means. If you don't enroll in a Part D plan, you'll be responsible for the full cost of your prescription medications. And if you eventually enroll, you'll pay a permanent surcharge on your Part D premium for every month you were eligible and didn't enroll.
Learn about Medicare plans for group, state, and federal employees
If you are becoming eligible for Medicare and your employer offers a group retiree Medicare Advantage health plan through Kaiser Permanente Washington, call us at 1-800-581-8252 or TTY 711 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
FEHB and PEBB members can also find information online:
Medicare Star Quality Ratings
Our Medicare Advantage health plan was rated 4.5 out of 5 Stars in Washington for 2021. The Medicare Star Rating is based on quality, service, and member satisfaction. Our high rating means you can have peace of mind knowing that you're getting high-quality care and coverage — all in a single plan at a great value.1
NCQA Quality Rating
Kaiser Permanente Washington Medicare Advantage (HMO) plan was rated 4.5 out of 5 in the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Medicare Health Insurance Plan Ratings 2019-2020.2