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1. What is Medicare and who can get it?

Medicare is the country’s federal health insurance plan for people age 65 or older. People younger than age 65 with certain disabilities, permanent kidney failure, or amytrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), can also qualify for Medicare. Medicare has four parts:

• Part A - Hospital insurance: Covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care.

• Part B - Medical insurance: Covers certain doctors' services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.

• Medicare Advantage Plans (formerly known as Part C): Includes all benefits and services covered under Part A and Part B, and usually Part D, “bundled” together in one plan. They are offered by private companies approved by Medicare

• Part D - Prescription drug coverage: Helps cover the cost of prescription drugs (including many recommended shots or vaccines).

2. When can I sign up for Medicare?

You can enroll in an Original Medicare plan or a Medicare Advantage plan during your initial enrollment period, the first time you’re eligible for Medicare. You can also enroll, change, or drop a plan during the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period:

• For Original Medicare, the open enrollment period is October 15 through December 7. Your coverage will begin on January 1 (as long as you enroll by December 7).

• For Medicare Advantage, the open enrollment period is January 1 through March 31

3. Can I change my Medicare coverage outside of the Open Enrollment Period?

You can make changes to your Medicare coverage under special circumstances that qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). These circumstances include moving to a new location that isn’t in your current plan’s service area or where new plan options are available, moving back into the U.S. after living abroad, if Medicare terminates your current Medicare Advantage plan, and other special situations.

4. How can I sign up for Medicare and choose a plan?

Sign up for Medicare online or contact Social Security. Social Security will review your records to see if you qualify for Medicare.

• To learn more about your coverage options under Medicare, including the Medicare Advantage plans, and how to enroll, you can go to the Medicare Plan Finder, a searchable tool on the website, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

• You can also contact the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for New Jersey. SHIPs offer local, personalized counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families. You can call 1-800-792-8820 or visit their website.