The ins and outs of medical insurance, Medicaid and Medicare can get so complicated that it can feel like you need to go back to school to figure out all of the options. With that in mind, let’s start with Medicare’s absolute basics.

Medicare is a social program meant to provide medical insurance coverage to people aged 65 and older. Workers pay into the program and then use its benefits after retirement to help cover some or all of the costs of medical care.

Medicare is broken up into four basic parts:

  • Part A covers insurance for hospital care.
  • Part B covers outpatient and physician care.
  • Part C is made up of Medicare Advantage plans, plans that act like a PPO or HMO and bring parts A and B under one roof.
  • Part D covers prescription drugs.

Now let’s see what you need to be eligible:

  • You must be 65 years of age or older.
  • You must be a legal resident of the United States.
  • You must have paid FICA taxes in 40 calendar quarters to get free Part A coverage. You can still get Part A coverage if this isn’t the case, but you will be responsible for paying the premiums. Keep in mind that the premiums can get quite expensive.

How about the timing of enrolling?

  • You can start receiving Social Security before age 65. If you have, you will automatically be enrolled in Parts A and B around the time you turn 65.
  • If you haven’t gotten Social Security benefits yet, you can start applying within six months of turning 65.

Be aware that this is just a basic primer. If you have questions about eligibility, enrolling and protecting your assets, you may want to speak with an attorney.