Medicare, A Simple Explanation

October 24, 2019 • By

Last Updated: July 16, 2021

Social Security and Medicare are both programs that are household names, but do you know the true difference? Both programs help safeguard millions of Americans as well as improve the quality of life for their family and friends. While Social Security offers retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, Medicare provides health insurance.

Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older and younger people receiving Social Security disability benefits. The program helps with the cost of health care, but it doesn’t cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care.

When you first enroll in Medicare and during certain times of the year, you can choose how you get your Medicare coverage. There are 2 main ways to get Medicare:

Original Medicare

Original Medicare includes Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance). If you want drug coverage, you can join a separate Part D plan. To help pay your out-of-pocket costs in Original Medicare (like your deductible and 20% coinsurance), you can also shop for and buy supplemental coverage. Examples include coverage from a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy, or from a former employer or union.

Medicare Advantage (also known as Part C)

Medicare Advantage is an “all in one” alternative to Original Medicare. These “bundled” plans include Part A, Part B, and usually Part D.  Part C plans may have lower out-of-pocket costs than Original Medicare.  They also may offer extra benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t cover — like vision, hearing, dental, and more.

If you can’t afford to pay your Medicare premiums and other medical costs, you may be able to get help from your state. States offer programs for people eligible for or entitled to Medicare who have low income. Some programs may pay for Medicare premiums and some pay Medicare deductibles and coinsurance. To qualify, you must have limited income and resources.

You can learn more about Medicare, including how to apply for Medicare and get a replacement Medicare card on our website.


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About the Author

Darlynda Bogle, Assistant Deputy Commissioner


  1. Loretta l Whisenant

    I will be eligible for medicare and 65 in March2021. I understand I will be sent a Medicare card at the end of year if I am on social security. Is this true if you are not on social security but I am on social security survivor benefits and not retiring. Will I still receive a medicare card?

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Loretta, thank you for using our blog. Generally, individuals receiving Social Security benefits, which includes survivor benefits, are automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. Thanks!

  2. Kathe Kline

    This is a very simple explanation, as referenced in the title of the blog post. Thank you for that. But here is a video (15 minutes) that provides a more detailed explanation: It explains the difference between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement Plans.

  3. Mahvash Doering

    My husband turned 65 in May 2020. Does he gets his Medicare card part A plan without applying for it or he has to apply for it?

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Mahvash, thank you for using our blog. Generally, individuals receiving Social Security benefits are automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. If your husband is working and has health insurance through his employer, he may be able to delay signing up for Medicare without a late enrollment penalty. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions web page for details.

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  6. Nazish Khan

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