Home What is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?

What is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?

by Hazel Hanks
10 minutes read
Informative image of an elderly person getting their heartbeat listened to by a nurse. The landscape-oriented image features a slightly saturated philodendron leaf in the backdrop, with light tones that convey a sense of well-being, calm, and happiness, making it ideal for a health and wellness website.

Health insurance is crucial, especially for aging adults and individuals with limited income. In the United States, two major public programs provide health coverage to these groups: Medicare and Medicaid. These federal-state programs are designed to offer support, but they serve different populations and needs.


Medicare is the federal health insurance program for:

  • Individuals over 65 and younger have specific disabilities or end-stage renal disease.
  • Younger people with disabilities
  • People with end-stage renal disease

Coverage Components:

  • Part A (Hospital Insurance): Covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities, and hospice care
  • Part B (Medical Insurance): Covers doctor visits, outpatient care, home health services, and durable medical equipment
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans): Private insurers’ substitute for the original Medicare
  • Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): Optional coverage for prescription drugs


Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for:

  • Low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults, and people with disabilities.

Coverage Components:

  • Nursing home care
  • Personal care services

Eligibility for Medicaid varies by state. The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage in many places. If you think you may be eligible:

  • Check the specifics for your state
  • Consider Medicaid as a potentially affordable health insurance option

Medicare vs. Medicaid

While Medicare and Medicaid are both government programs designed to help with healthcare costs, they serve fundamentally different purposes and populations. Medicare is aligned with age and disability, offering coverage to individuals over 65 and to those under 65 with certain conditions, such as end-stage renal disease. Medicaid, conversely, provides for low-income people of every age, and its scope of services can be broader, including long-term care which Medicare doesn’t typically cover.

The key points to remember when comparing Medicare and Medicaid include their distinct eligibility requirements, covered services, and costs. Medicare is universally available based on age or disability, with standardized benefits and costs across the country. Medicaid eligibility is income-based and can involve an asset test, with services and costs varying by state due to the shared federal-state administration.

Finding Healthcare Providers for Medicare and Medicaid

Medicare Providers:

  • Use the Medicare website’s search tool.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE for assistance.

Medicaid Providers:

  • Check your state’s Medicaid website or helpline.
  • Providers vary by state; some accept both Medicare and Medicaid.

Understanding Medicare

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In the context of Medicare, it’s crucial to understand the various parts of the program and how each caters to different healthcare needs:

  • Part A: Hospitalization Coverage
  • Part B: Medical Insurance
  • Part C: Medicare Advantage Plans
  • Part D: Prescription Drug Coverage

Each component plays a unique role in the overall coverage scheme, ensuring beneficiaries have access to comprehensive health care services.

Part A: Hospitalization Coverage

Medicare Part A is fundamental for covering services associated with inpatient care. From hospital stays and skilled nursing facility care to hospice and limited home health services, Part A provides a foundational layer of coverage for beneficiaries. Most don’t have to pay a premium, but there are deductibles and coinsurance costs.

Part B: Medical Insurance

Medicare Part B is equally important as it handles outpatient medical services. Covering physician visits, preventive services, medical supplies, and outpatient procedures, Part B works in tandem with Part A to create a more complete coverage framework. Beneficiaries pay a monthly premium, a yearly deductible, and typically 20% of the costs for covered services.

Part C: Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans, or Part C, offer an alternative way to receive Medicare benefits. These plans, offered by private companies, often include additional services like vision and dental care and generally set a limit on out-of-pocket expenses. The plans require enrollees to pay the standard Part B premium plus any additional premium charged by the plan.

Part D: Prescription Drug Coverage

Medicare Part D provides beneficiaries with coverage for prescription medications. While it aids in managing drug costs, the specifics, such as premiums and drug formularies, can vary by plan. It’s essential to select a Part D plan that aligns well with one’s medication needs to optimize benefits and minimize expenses.

Enrolling in Medicare

Steps for Enrollment:

  • Starts three months before turning 65, ends three months after.
  • Sign up online, via phone, or in person.

Automatic Enrollment:

  • If receiving Social Security benefits at 65, automatic enrollment in Parts A and B.
  • Option to opt-out of Part B.

Eligibility for Medicare

Age and Other Criteria:

  • Primarily 65 years or older.
  • Under 65 with qualified disabilities or specific diseases.

Optimal Time to Sign Up for Medicare

Initial Enrollment Period:

  • 7-month window around your 65th birthday.
  • Missing this can result in penalties.

Special and General Enrollment Periods:

  • Special circumstances coverage.
  • Annual General Enrollment Period.

Reporting Medicare Fraud

How to Report:

  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE or use online forms.
  • Provide detailed information about the incident.

Understanding Medicare Premiums and Coinsurance

Rates and Payment:

  • Varies annually, influenced by income.
  • Free Part A for those who’ve worked 10 years paying Medicare taxes.

Updating Personal Information with Medicare

Change of Name or Address:

  • Notify Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board.
  • Update online, by phone, or in person.

Replacement of Medicare Card

How to Request a New Card:

  • Online through Social Security, by phone, or local office.
  • Free of charge, arrives within 30 days.

Understanding Medicaid

Informative image of an elderly woman visiting an elderly man in hospital.

Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is a needs-based program catering specifically to low-income and resource-limited individuals. As a state-managed program, Medicaid offers a variety of benefits that can differ from state to state but often include a wide range of healthcare services, potentially at no cost to the individual.

Medicaid Eligibility and Costs

To qualify for Medicaid, applicants must meet specific income and sometimes asset criteria, which vary by state. Costs to the beneficiary can also vary, with most states offering coverage at little to no cost. Some states may have small co-payment requirements for certain services, but these are generally minimal, especially when compared to the potential costs without coverage.

Medicaid Benefits

Medicaid benefits often cover a broad scope of health services, from doctor visits and hospitalization to long-term care—services that are not always covered by Medicare. The program aims to ensure that the most vulnerable populations have access to necessary healthcare without the worry of unmanageable expenses.

Overview of the Medicaid Program

Purpose and Coverage:

  • Health coverage for low-income families and individuals.
  • Covers preventive to acute care, long-term care, and disability support.

State Variability:

  • Services and programs can differ by location.

Ambulance Services Under Medicaid

Coverage Criteria:

  • Covers medically necessary ambulance services.
  • State-specific rules apply; prior authorization may be needed for non-emergency transport.

Dental Care Coverage in Medicaid

Children’s Dental Services:

  • Required under the EPSDT benefit.

Adult Dental Services:

  • Varies widely by state.
  • Ranges from comprehensive to emergency-only or no coverage.
  • Verify specific coverage through the local Medicaid office or online resources.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the differences between Medicare and Medicaid is crucial for making informed healthcare decisions. Medicare provides comprehensive health coverage for those 65 and older or with certain disabilities, while Medicaid serves as a safety net for individuals and families with limited income, offering a range of health services that can vary from state to state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Can I Get Medicaid?

To get Medicaid, you must apply through your state’s Medicaid agency. Eligibility is based on income level and other factors, and each state may have varying criteria. You can apply online, by phone, by mail, or in person.

Who Is Eligible for Both Medicare and Medicaid?

Individuals who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid are known as “dual eligibles.” This typically includes older adults and people with disabilities who have limited income and resources.

Can I have both Medicare and Medicaid?

Yes, you can have both Medicare and Medicaid if you are a “dual eligible”—an individual who meets the criteria for both programs.

How do I apply for Medicare?

You can apply for Medicare online through the Social Security Administration, over the phone, or at a local Social Security office, typically starting three months before your 65th birthday.

How do I apply for Medicaid?

You apply for Medicaid through your state’s health department or online, based on the individual eligibility criteria set by your state.

If I’m an older adult who needs help choosing which option is right for me, what’s the next step?

Seek advice from a Medicare or Medicaid counselor, such as those available through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), to discuss your specific situation and explore the best options for you.

Where can I find healthcare insurance? Are there low-cost healthcare facilities in my area?

For those seeking healthcare insurance besides Medicare or Medicaid, multiple options exist, including employer-provided insurance, insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, or private plans. Low-cost healthcare facilities, such as community health centers or clinics, often offer services on a sliding scale based on income. These centers can usually be found through an internet search or by inquiring at local health departments.

Additionally, for individuals over 65 or with certain disabilities, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) offers free, personalized health insurance counseling. SHIP can help you navigate your Medicare options and find the most suitable and cost-effective plan for your needs.

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