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Two road signs pointing in different directions labeled 'Medicare' and 'Medicaid,' representing the difference between Medicaid and Medicare in healthcare services.

What Is the Difference Between Medicaid and Medicare

Have you ever wondered about the difference between Medicaid and Medicare? They might sound similar, but they are actually quite different! Medicare is like a helping hand from the government mainly for people over 65, no matter how much money they make. It helps cover doctor visits, hospital stays, and even some medicines. On the other hand, Medicaid is like a safety net for people who have a harder time paying for healthcare—like low-income families, pregnant women, and some elderly people, regardless of their age.

Now, understanding these programs can be tricky, but you don’t have to figure it out alone! That’s where The Medicare Family comes in. Imagine having a wise friend who knows all about health insurance and can help you pick the best plan without costing you a penny. That’s us! We’ve been doing this for over 40 years, helping folks in all 50 states make sense of Medicare and find the right health coverage for their needs.

Ready to learn more and find the perfect Medicare plan for you? Schedule your FREE call with The Medicare Family today! Our expert team will guide you through our simple 3-step process, give you unbiased advice, and help you compare the top plans in your area. With our lifetime support, you can relax knowing we’ve got your back.

Medicare vs. Medicaid: Key Differences

Eligibility Requirements

Medicare Eligibility

Medicare is mostly for people who are 65 years old or older. But it’s not just about age:

  • Age: Once you hit 65, you can sign up for Medicare. It’s kind of like a birthday present from the government to help with medical costs as you get older.
  • Disabilities: People younger than 65 can also get Medicare if they have certain disabilities. For example, if someone has been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments for 24 months, they can join Medicare.
  • Diseases: People with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) can also qualify.

Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid is a bit different because it’s more focused on helping people who don’t have a lot of money:

  • Income: This is the main thing that decides if someone can get Medicaid. It’s for people and families who have a lower income. Each state has its own rules for how much money you can make and still get Medicaid.
  • Resources: Some states also look at what you own, like if you have a lot of savings or expensive items, which might mean you don’t need Medicaid.
  • Other Groups: Each state can choose to include other groups who need extra help, like pregnant women, children, elderly people, and individuals with disabilities.

Because states run their own Medicaid programs, the rules can be different depending on where you live. This means what works in one state might not work in another.

Funding Sources

Medicare Funding

Medicare funding is mostly like a savings account that everyone pays into when they’re working, so it’s there when they need it later:

  • Payroll Taxes: When people work, they pay a part of their earnings into Medicare through something called payroll taxes. This is like putting part of your weekly allowance into a piggy bank for when you’re older.
  • Premiums: People who use Medicare also pay premiums, which is a monthly cost to keep their Medicare coverage. This is like paying a monthly membership fee to be part of a club.
  • Federal Budget: The government also uses money from general taxes to help pay for Medicare.

Medicaid Funding

Medicaid funding is a bit more like a partnership between the state you live in and the federal government:

  • State and Federal Contributions: Both the state and the federal government put money into Medicaid. Each state decides how much to spend on Medicaid, and then the federal government adds some money to that amount based on a formula. If a state spends more, the federal government gives more, up to a certain point.
  • Taxes: The money that states and the federal government use comes from taxes. So, in a way, everyone helps pay for Medicaid through their taxes, just like everyone in a community might contribute to a fundraiser.

The big difference is that Medicare is mostly funded by the people who will use it and the federal government, while Medicaid is a joint effort between state and federal governments, which can adjust depending on how much help people in that state need. This means funding can change from year to year and state to state, making it flexible to meet different needs. 

Who Administers it?

Who Administers Medicare

Medicare is a federal program, which means it’s managed by the government of the entire United States. Specifically, Medicare is overseen by a part of the federal government called the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This agency is responsible for making sure Medicare works the same way across all states. They set the rules, manage the finances, and make sure that everyone who’s eligible gets the help they need. Since it’s a federal program, it doesn’t change much from one state to another, which keeps things consistent whether you’re in Hawaii or Maine.

Who Administers Medicaid

Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is a bit more local. It’s jointly run by the state and the federal government. This means that each state has its own Medicaid program, although they all follow certain basic guidelines set by the federal government. Because each state can make some of its own rules, Medicaid can look pretty different depending on where you live. For example, some states might offer benefits that others don’t, or they might allow more people to join Medicaid based on higher income limits.

Each state’s Medicaid agency deals with the day-to-day running of the program. They handle things like who gets to join, what services are covered, and how much doctors and hospitals get paid. If you have questions about Medicaid, you’d typically contact your state’s Medicaid office.

Coverage and Benefits

Medicare Coverage: Medicare has a few different parts, each covering specific types of healthcare services:

  • Part A (Hospital Insurance): This helps cover big expenses like hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, hospice, and some home health care. It’s like having a safety net for big health emergencies.
  • Part B (Medical Insurance): This part covers more regular medical needs, such as doctor visits, medical tests, outpatient care, and some preventive services (like flu shots). It’s like your toolbox for everyday medical care.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage): Offered by private companies approved by Medicare, this includes all the benefits of Part A and Part B and often adds more, like vision, hearing, and dental care.
  • Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): Helps cover the cost of prescription medications. Think of it as a discount card for your medicines.

Medicare also offers Medigap, which is supplemental insurance that you can buy to cover gaps in Parts A and B, like co-pays and deductibles.

Medicaid Coverage: Medicaid covers many of the same types of services as Medicare but often includes additional benefits, which can vary widely from state to state. Here’s what you typically see:

  • Comprehensive Coverage: It generally includes hospital stays, doctor visits, long-term medical care, and more. Medicaid often covers services that Medicare does not, like certain home care services and personal care services.
  • Long-term Care: This is a big one—Medicaid can help cover the costs of long-term care in a nursing home or at home, which Medicare generally does not cover.

Comparing Costs

Medicare Costs

Medicare costs can vary quite a bit because they depend on several factors:

  • Premiums: This is the monthly fee you pay to have Medicare. For most people, Part A (hospital insurance) doesn’t cost anything if they or their spouse paid Medicare taxes while working for a certain amount of time. However, Part B (medical insurance) does have a standard monthly premium, which can change each year. For 2024, the standard Part B premium is $174.70 per month.
  • Deductibles and Copays: These are other costs you pay when you receive medical services. For example, Medicare Part A has a deductible you pay when you’re admitted to the hospital, and Medicare Part B has a yearly deductible for services like doctor visits and lab tests. After your deductible, you usually pay 20% of the costs for services covered by Part B.
  • Part D (Drug Coverage): This part covers prescription drugs and usually has its own premium and deductible, which varies depending on the plan you choose.

Also, if you choose a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), your costs can be different. These plans are offered by private insurance companies and can have different premiums, deductibles, and copays compared to traditional Medicare.

Medicaid Costs

Medicaid is quite different because it’s aimed at helping people with lower incomes:

  • Premiums: In many cases, Medicaid does not charge any premiums at all, or they are very low.
  • Copays: Some Medicaid programs might have very small copays for services, like a few dollars for a doctor visit or prescription. In many states, certain groups like children and pregnant women don’t have to pay these at all.
  • No Deductibles: Medicaid usually does not have deductibles, which means you don’t have to pay a certain amount before Medicaid starts to cover your bills.

Since Medicaid is designed to assist those with limited financial resources, the costs associated with it are generally much lower than those for Medicare. The state manages these costs to ensure that healthcare remains accessible to those who need financial help the most.

How Medicaid works with Medicare

Two wooden stamps labeled 'Medicare' and 'Medicaid' with pills scattered around, emphasizing healthcare services and the distinct stamps representing the two programs.

Understanding how Medicaid works with Medicare can be a bit like figuring out a team sport, where each player has a special role that helps the team—your health care—win the game.

Dual Eligibility

Some people can have both Medicaid and Medicare; we call them “dual eligible.” This is really important because it means they get the benefits of both programs. Here’s how each program plays its part:

  • Medicare: Think of Medicare as the main player in this team. It steps in first to cover medical costs like doctor visits, hospital stays, and prescription drugs. It’s like the quarterback who makes the first move in a football game.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid jumps in as a powerful support player. After Medicare pays its part, Medicaid can cover some of the costs that Medicare doesn’t fully pay. This includes things like some copays, deductibles, and even some additional services that only Medicaid covers, such as long-term care.

Extra Help

For those who have both programs, Medicaid can also help with Medicare premiums. There’s a special program called the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) that helps pay Medicare Part A and Part B premiums, and sometimes even the deductibles and copayments. This means less money out of pocket and more coverage for health care.

Prescription Drugs

When it comes to medicine, having both Medicare and Medicaid is super helpful. Medicare Part D helps with prescription drugs, and for those with both Medicare and Medicaid, there’s even more good news—Medicaid might help with some of the costs that Medicare Part D doesn’t fully cover. Plus, people with both Medicare and Medicaid automatically get what’s called “Extra Help,” a benefit that lowers the cost of prescriptions significantly.

Coordinated Care

Some states have special plans for people with both Medicaid and Medicare. These plans make it easier because they combine services and provide one set of health care providers to manage all of a person’s needs. This makes the whole process smoother and simpler.

Navigating the System

It might sound complicated having two programs at once, but it’s like having a safety net and a backup plan all rolled into one. For those who qualify, it means getting the most comprehensive health care coverage possible without having to worry as much about the costs.

Who Qualifies as Dual Eligible?

Being dual eligible means that someone qualifies for both Medicare and Medicaid, which can give them more health benefits and coverage than having just one of the programs.

1. Medicare Part

First, to be dual eligible, a person must qualify for Medicare. This means they’re either over 65 years old, or they’re younger but have certain disabilities or diseases like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or End-Stage Renal Disease, which requires regular dialysis or a kidney transplant.

2. Medicaid Part

Second, to be dual eligible, the person also needs to meet the Medicaid requirements, which mostly look at how much money someone makes and sometimes what they own. Since Medicaid is aimed at helping those with lower incomes get medical care, each state sets its own income limits for eligibility. These limits are a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level, and they vary widely depending on the state.

Examples of Dual Eligible People

  • Older Adults: Many older adults live on fixed incomes that might be low enough to qualify for Medicaid. If they’re also over 65, they qualify for Medicare, making them dual eligible.
  • Younger People with Disabilities: Some people under 65 have serious health conditions that qualify them for Medicare. If they also have limited income and resources, they might qualify for Medicaid as well.

Special Plans for Dual Eligible

There are special health plans called Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs) designed specifically for people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. These plans combine services and benefits from both programs into one more manageable healthcare plan, making it easier for dual eligible to receive the care they need.

Being dual eligible means that someone has access to the broad protective umbrella of Medicare along with the more targeted financial help that Medicaid provides. This combination ensures that the most vulnerable people—those with significant health needs and limited financial means—receive adequate healthcare without overwhelming costs.

The Bottom Line

Knowing the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, as well as how each program works, is crucial for anyone navigating their health coverage options. Medicare is primarily for people 65 and older or those with certain disabilities, offering a range of coverage across hospital visits, medical insurance, and prescription drugs. Medicaid, on the other hand, serves individuals and families with lower incomes, providing extensive healthcare services that can vary significantly by state.

These programs not only offer essential health benefits but can also work together to ensure that those who qualify for both (known as dual eligible) receive comprehensive healthcare coverage. Understanding your eligibility and the benefits of each program can significantly impact your healthcare decisions and quality of life.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or just ready to find the best Medicare plan for your needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to The Medicare Family. With over 40 years of experience and a license in all 50 states, we’re equipped to offer you expert, unbiased advice to help you navigate through Medicare’s complexities. Our service is absolutely free, and we’re here to support you every step of the way—from comparing plans to choosing the one that fits you best.


Who Is Eligible for Both Medicare And Medicaid?

People who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, known as dual eligible, typically include those over 65 with low incomes, or younger individuals with disabilities and limited financial resources. These folks qualify by meeting specific Medicare and state-defined Medicaid criteria.

If You Have Medicare And Medicaid, Which Is Primary?

If you have both Medicare and Medicaid, Medicare acts as your primary insurance. This means Medicare pays first for your healthcare bills, and Medicaid may cover additional costs that Medicare doesn’t fully pay.

What is the Highest Income to Qualify for Medicaid?

The highest income to qualify for Medicaid varies by state and your family size. Generally, it’s set at a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). For most states, this means if you make less than around 138% of the FPL, you may qualify.

Sylvia Gordon, aka Medicare Mama®, is an expert on all things Medicare and Social Security. She is the 2nd Generation here at The Medicare Family and has served on the advisory boards of major insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare®, Cigna, and Anthem. In her free time, she can be found taking care of her animals (dogs, goats, peacocks, chickens), and reading a good book. Learn More.
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