What is Medicare?

Medicare is a federal health program that helps pay for your healthcare. Learn Medicare basics, including the four parts, how much it costs, and how and when to apply.

How does Medicare work?


Medicare is for people 65 or older, and younger people with certain disabilities or health conditions. Even if you have employer health benefits at age 65, you can enroll in Medicare to replace or enhance your insurance.


Understanding Medicare and its parts can help you find the right plan for your health needs and budget. To better learn what it is and how it works, let’s explore Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D, and what they cover.

What are the 4 parts of Medicare?


Medicare has four parts: A, B, C, and D. Original Medicare includes Medicare Part A (hospital care) and Part B (doctor visits).


Many people find they need more coverage than what Original Medicare provides, such as dental, vision, hearing, or prescription drug coverage. This is where Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) and Part D (prescription drug) plans come in.


After you enroll in Original Medicare, you can sign up for Part C and/or Part D through a private insurance company like Wellpoint.

What do Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D cover?

Medicare Part A

What it covers:


Hospital/inpatient care and expenses

Good for:


An unexpected injury or sudden illness that requires inpatient care.

Potential benefits:

  • Hospital stays up to 60 days
  • Nursing services
  • Intensive care services
  • Drugs, medical supplies, and equipment
  • Lab tests and X-rays while hospitalized
  • Surgery and recovery costs
  • Rehabilitation and therapy services
  • Part-time home nursing care

Medicare Part B

What it covers:


Outpatient medical needs

Good for:


Long-term preventative care and health care visits.

Potential benefits:

  • Doctor visits
  • Tests, screening, and X-rays
  • Flu shots and other vaccinations
  • Necessary medical supplies
  • Outpatient mental healthcare
  • Medically necessary preventative care

Medicare Part C

What it covers:


Medicare Parts A & B—and more

Good for:


Combined coverage of Parts A & B and other benefits in an all-in-one plan.

Potential benefits:

  • Medicare Parts A & B benefits
  • Dental care (cleanings, X-rays, and dentures)
  • Vision care (eye exams, glasses, and contacts)
  • Hearing care including hearing aids
  • Fitness benefits

Medicare Part D

What it covers:


Prescription drugs

Good for:


Conditions that require regular medication, such as high blood pressure.

Potential benefits:

  • Prescription medications


Note: If you do not enroll in a Part D plan or a plan that includes Part D and you do not have creditable coverage for your drugs, you will incur a penalty for every month you were eligible and did not enroll.

Frequently asked questions about Medicare


Learn more about costs, who is eligible, and how to apply for Medicare.

Wellpoint and Carelon Health plans are Medicare Advantage plans with Medicare contracts. Wellpoint and Carelon Health plans are SNP plans with a Medicare contract and a contract with the state Medicaid program. Enrollment in Wellpoint or Carelon Health depends on contract renewal.