By : Amy C. Dean
Social Security District Manager in Chico CA
Almost everyone knows that Medicare is a medical insurance program for retired and disabled people, run by the government.  But there are probably some things you don't know about Medicare - and should.  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 about Medicare.

There are four parts to Medicare:  Parts A, B, C and D.  Part A helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice care and other services.  Part B helps pay for doctors' fees, outpatient hospital visits, and other medical services and supplies that are not covered by Part A.  Part C allows you to choose to receive all of your health care services through a provider organization.  These plans may help lower your costs of receiving medical services, or you may get extra benefits for an additional monthly fee.  You must have both Parts A and B to enroll in Part C. And Part D is the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.  Part B is the one we get the most questions about, so here are some things to know about it.

Most people don't pay a premium for Part A because they have worked and paid enough in Medicare taxes on wages over the years.  However, there is a monthly premium for Medicare Part B; in 2008 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, unless you want to pay a penalty in the form of a higher premium.  Most people first become eligible for Medicare at age 65.

There are exceptions to this rule.  For example, you can delay your Medicare Part B enrollment without having to pay higher premiums if you are covered under a group health plan based on your own current employment or the current employment of any family member.  If this situation applies to you, you can sign up for Medicare Part B without paying higher premiums:

1. Any month you are under a group health plan based on your own current employment or the current employment of any family member; or

2. Within eight months after your employment or group health plan coverage ends, whichever comes first.

If you are disabled and working (or you have coverage from a working family member), the same rules apply.

Remember:  If you don't enroll in Medicare Part B when you first become eligible to apply and you don't fit into one of the above categories, you'll have to wait until the general enrollment period, which is January 1 through March 31 of each year.  At that time, you may then have to pay a higher Medicare Part B premium because you could have had Medicare Part B and did not take it.

For more information about Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D, visit the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare website at www.medicare.gov.
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