Medicare is health insurance for people age 65 or older, under age 65 with certain disabilities, and any age with permanent kidney failure (called end-stage renal disease.)

Medicare is health insurance for people age 65 or older, under age 65 with certain disabilities, and any age with permanent kidney failure (called end-stage renal disease.) You must have entered the United States lawfully and have lived here for five years to be eligible for Medicare.

Medicare has two parts. Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient care you get in a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or hospice, and for home health care if you meet certain conditions. Most people don't have to pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part A because they or a spouse paid Medicare taxes while working in the United States. If you don't automatically get premium-free Part A, you may still be able to enroll, and pay a premium.

Medicare Part B (medical insurance) helps pay for medically-necessary doctors' services and other outpatient care. It also pays for some preventive services (like flu shots) to help keep you healthy and some services that keep certain illnesses from getting worse. Most people pay the standard monthly Medicare Part B premium ($96.40 in 2008).

You have choices about how you get your Medicare coverage.

Original Medicare managed by the Federal government provides your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage. (You can choose to have either one, or both parts.) You have to pay a deductible, and you are usually charged coinsurance each time you get services.

You can add Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) by joining a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Costs and benefits vary by plan.

You can also choose to buy a Medigap (medicare supplement insurance) policy to help pay some of the health care costs' gaps (like copayments, coinsurances, and deductibles).

Medicare Advantage Plans are also called Part C. You must have both Part A and Part B to join one of these plans. The plans provide all of your Part A and Part B services and generally provide additional services. You usually pay a monthly premium, and copayments that will likely be less than the coinsurance and deductibles under Original Medicare.

In most cases, these plans also offer Part D prescription drug coverage. These plans are offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. Costs and benefits vary by plan.

Extra help is available. If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for help paying your Medicare health care and/or prescription drug coverage costs.

K-State Research and Extension, Family and Consumer Science Agent Jana McKinney is a Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas counselor willing to meet with any McPherson County resident to answer questions about Medicare. The McPherson County Council on Aging and the McPherson Senior Center have SHICK counselors available to provide assistance.

These counselors have taken a 40-hour course on Medicare and update their training each year.

While we may not have all the information, we will work hard to help beneficiaries understand their options. This is a free, confidential, unbiased service offered.