Solve the Medicare puzzle – The A, B, C, and D pieces |

Solve the Medicare puzzle – The A, B, C, and D pieces

Almost everyone knows that Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older. But there are probably some things you don’t know about Medicare – and should. For example, certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, including those who have disabilities, permanent kidney failure, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

There are four parts to Medicare: Parts A, B, C, and D. Some people are only covered by one type of Medicare; others opt to pay extra for more coverage. Understanding Medicare can save you money. Here are some things you should know.

Part A helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice care and other services. Most folks don’t pay a premium for Part A because they have worked and paid enough in Medicare taxes on wages. You should sign up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday if you are not receiving monthly retirement benefits. If you are receiving benefits, a card will automatically be mailed to you.

Part B helps pay for doctors’ fees, outpatient hospital visits, and other medical services and supplies that are not covered by hospital insurance. There is a monthly premium for Part B; in 2009 the standard premium is $96.40. Some high-income individuals pay more than the standard premium. Part B is a good value for people who need medical insurance, but you need to enroll during your initial enrollment period or when you first become eligible. A delay on your part may cause a delay in coverage and result in higher premiums (10 percent for each 12 months you were eligible for, but did not enroll in). There are special enrollment periods for people covered under and employer group health plan.

Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans are available in many areas. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all of their health care services through one of the provider organizations under Part C. These plans may help lower costs of receiving medical services, or may get extra benefits for an additional monthly fee.

Prescription drug coverage (Part D) helps pay for medications doctors prescribe. You should consider comparing your Medicare drug plan choices in these areas – coverage, cost, and convenience. You can get help making a decision about enrolling in a specific drug plan by visiting or calling 1-800-633-4227. There may be agencies in your area that can help you with Medicare prescription drug plan. In SD you may contact your county extension office or call SHIINE (Senior Health Information and Insurance Education) at 1-800-536-8197.

If you have other health insurance when you become eligible for Medicare, you will need to decide if it is worth the monthly premium cost to sign up for Medicare medical insurance and the prescription drug coverage. One important word of caution: for your own protection, do not cancel any health insurance you now have until your Medicare coverage actually begins. If you have coverage under a program from Department of Defense, the Indian Health Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, or a state medical assistance program, contact the people in those offices to help you decide whether it is to your advantage to have Medicare medical insurance.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the agency in charge of the Medicare program (1-800-633-4227 or But you can apply for Medicare at Social Security, and we can give you general information about the Medicare program. Social Security can help you apply for extra help paying for your Medicare prescription drug plan costs if you have limited income and resources (1-800-772-1213 or

kathy petersen is the public affairs specialist for south dakota and eastern wyoming. you can write her c/o social security administration, 605 main st, suite 201, rapid city, sd or via email at check back next week as now’s the time to apply online for a new year retirement.