As the nation's largest health insurance program, Medicare covers more than 40 million people in the U.S. with a range of backgrounds and health conditions. Participants in Medicare have to meet certain eligibility requirements in order to sign up for this health insurance. Age is the primary determining factor in Medicare eligibility, though some individuals who do not meet the age limit can obtain Medicare as well. Eligible participants can take advantage of a number of Medicare services.
Under normal circumstances, individuals who are age 65 and older can receive Medicare benefits. Sixty-five-year-olds are eligible for Medicare if they can or do receive Social Security or railroad retirement benefits, if the individual or his spouse worked in a government job long enough that he paid Medicare taxes or if the individual is the dependent parent of a deceased child who was fully insured.
Some individuals under 65 can receive Medicare benefits depending on their health condition. An individual who has been on Social Security disability benefits for at least 24 months can receive Medicare benefits, no matter her age. Individuals or widows over the age of 50 or individuals who worked for the government, paid Medicare taxes and meet disability requirements are also eligible. Finally, individuals receiving benefits because of Lou Gehrig's disease or kidney failure can sign up for Medicare under the age of 65.
Types of Insurance
Individuals over the age of 65 -- and those under that age with the noted exceptions -- receive free Medicare hospital insurance. This insurance pays for inpatient care at a hospital or nursing facility as well as some home-health care. Those individuals eligible for the free hospital insurance can also sign up for Medicare medical insurance and pay a monthly premium. They also have the option of signing up for Medicare Advantage plans, which feature managed care, specialty care or PPO plans and prescription drug plans.
Shortly before an individual turns 65 and starts earning Social Security or railroad retirement benefits, Medicare will contact him about his benefit eligibility. Every eligible individual over the age of 65 will receive the free hospital benefits, and they can choose whether they want to pay a premium for medical benefits. Individuals who decline the medical benefits can sign up for them during an open enrollment period at the beginning of every year.