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Get the Medicare basics

Whether you’re new to Medicare or just want a refresher, we’re here to help you get the most out of your health care.

There’s a lot to consider as you begin looking at Medicare options in Iowa and Illinois: Who qualifies for Medicare? What does Medicare cover? How do I pick a Medicare plan? We make finding out as simple as possible. That way, you can make a decision you’re confident in.

What’s the Medicare eligibility age?

For most people, signing up for Medicare starts around your 65th birthday. This is called your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). It starts three months before your birthday, includes your birthday month and ends three months after your birthday.

During your IEP, you’re eligible to enroll in Medicare. If you miss your IEP, don’t worry – you can still sign up later. But you may face penalties for enrolling late.

What are the parts of Medicare?

Medicare can be broken down into two basic categories: Original Medicare (Parts A and B) and private Medicare plans.

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)

Original Medicare helps cover your medical costs. There are two parts:


Part A: Inpatient hospital care and skilled nursing facility care


Part B: Visits to the doctor, outpatient care and durable medical equipment

If you are receiving Social Security benefits when you become eligible to enroll in Medicare (your IEP), you’ll be signed up for Parts A and B automatically. You’ll receive a welcome packet in the mail that outlines next steps.

If you are not receiving Social Security benefits when you become eligible to enroll in Medicare (your IEP), you can sign up for Parts A and B online or through your local Social Security office. You won’t be enrolled automatically.

It’s important to remember that Original Medicare doesn’t cover everything. For example, you do not get coverage for:

  • Deductibles, coinsurance and copays
  • Most dental care
  • Routine hearing exams
  • Fitness programs
  • Most prescription drugs
  • Routine eye care
  • Services outside the U.S.
  • Hearing aids

Private Medicare plans

Private Medicare plans offer extra coverage and perks you can’t get with Original Medicare. You can purchase and enroll in a private Medicare plan through a health insurance company, like HealthPartners UnityPoint Health. Some types of private plans include:

  • Prescription drug plans (Part D)These plans help with the cost of prescription drugs. As standalone plans, they can be added to Original Medicare or another private Medicare plan. They’re also included as part of most Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) – These are usually all-in-one plans that provide complete medical coverage (Parts A and B) and prescription drug coverage (Part D).
  • Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans – These plans help pay some of the costs you’re responsible for under Original Medicare. Prescription drug coverage isn’t included.

You need to be signed up for Original Medicare (Parts A and B) before you can sign up for a private Medicare plan. If you’re getting Medicare for the first time, this can all be done during the same enrollment period.

How do I choose the right Medicare plan?

Choosing a Medicare plan is a personal decision. That’s because different plans are right for different people.

To help you decide on a plan, you may want to think about:

  • How many times you visit the doctor each year
  • Whether you see a specialist
  • How many medications you take
  • The total amount of out-of-pocket costs you’re comfortable paying each year

At HealthPartners UnityPoint Health, our team is your partner to help you compare Medicare plan options. We’ll talk about your current health care needs, including how often you see a doctor or specialist, prescription drugs you’re taking and more.

You can look at Medicare Advantage plans online, request a packet or connect with a Medicare expert. We’re here for you throughout the process to help you find the plan that’s right for you.

Can I change my Medicare plan later?

Yes. Every year you can evaluate and change your Medicare plan, if you want to.

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. It’s open to anyone with any Medicare plan. But depending on what kind of plan you have, or other special circumstances, you may also be able to change your plan at other times during the year.

How do I learn more about Medicare?

We’re your partner in making Medicare as simple as can be. Check out our Medicare blog for a lot more info on choosing a plan, using your plan, prescription drug coverage options, Medicare tips and much more.

Here are some of our most popular Medicare blog posts:

How do I get help picking a Medicare plan?

We have several ways you can get started exploring our plans. Our team is here to help you find the right fit.


Look at plans online

Ready to see some options? We offer Medicare Advantage plans to people living in parts of Iowa and Illinois.

Compare plans

Enroll now

Get an info packet

Want to review things on your own time? We’ll send a packet about our Medicare plans to your mailbox or email inbox.

Request an info packet


Connect with experts

Want to hear from a Medicare pro? Attend an in-person meeting, watch a recorded meeting or schedule a one-on-one call.

Connect with our team

Legal information

Last updated September 2021

H3416_000403 Accepted

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