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with an affordable means of getting the care they need. But by no means does it cover everything.

Eligibility For the most part, Americans become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65 and are receiving social security benefits. But those individuals who have been receiving social security disability bene- fits for at least 24 months, and those who have permanent kidney failure are also eligible for Medicare. For those workers who are eli- gible for social security benefits and don’t take them at age 65, and for those who continue to work after age 65, Medicare is still avail- able. Plus, any spouses or former spouses who qualify for Social Security may also enroll in Medicare at age 65.

Medicare is also available to citizens and permanent aliens as long as they have lived in the United States continuously for at least the 5 years preceding entitlement. If they are 65 or older and aren’t eligible for social security (or railroad retirement) benefits, they may also enroll in Medicare. But in these cases, they typically must pay the premiums associated with Medicare Part A.

The Two Faces of Medicare: Parts A and B Medicare has two different parts to it: hospital insurance and medical insurance. These are commonly referred to as Part A (hospital insur- ance) and Part B (medical insurance). These two parts cover different aspects of health care and work in different ways. For example, most people don’t have to pay a premium for Part A, whereas you usually have to pay a premium for Part B, as well as a copayment. (Part A also carries a copayment.) But Medicare doesn’t provide any kind of blanket coverage. Your doctor may not even participate in the pro- gram. Although this is a federal program, it doesn’t mean that physi- cians are federally mandated to accept Medicare patients. And, as with HMOs and other health plans, doctors can opt out of Medicare.

PART A. As long as you are automatically eligible for Medicare (that is, you satisfy one of the three main qualifying requirements listed above), you don’t have to pay a premium for Part A. Part A consists of hospital insurance and helps pay for inpatient care in a

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