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What Is Medicare Part A?

The federal Medicare program is filled with letters and acronyms. This can make it very confusing for those who are just learning the ropes and even for those who’ve been on the program for years! Today, we’re starting right at the beginning of the alphabet. Let’s take a deep dive into Medicare Part A.

What Does Medicare Part A Cover?

Medicare Part A, often referred to as hospital insurance, primarily covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and some home health care services. Let's take a closer look.

Inpatient Hospital Stays: Part A provides coverage for medically necessary inpatient hospital care, including semi-private rooms, meals, general nursing, and other hospital services and supplies. This includes necessary surgeries, treatments, and medications administered during the hospital stay. However, it's important to note that Part A coverage doesn't include private-duty nursing, a private room (unless medically necessary), personal care items, or non-medically necessary services.

Skilled Nursing Facility Care: Part A also covers skilled nursing facility care if certain conditions are met. This includes semi-private rooms, meals, skilled nursing care, physical and occupational therapy, and other services and supplies related to the patient's care. To qualify for this coverage, the individual must have a qualifying hospital stay of at least three consecutive days, and the care provided in the skilled nursing facility must be medically necessary and related to the hospital stay.

Hospice Care: Medicare Part A covers hospice care for terminally ill patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less. This coverage includes medical and support services aimed at providing comfort and improving the quality of life for patients with terminal illnesses. Hospice care can be provided in various settings, including the patient's home, a hospice facility, a nursing home, or a hospital.

Some Home Health Care Services: Part A covers certain medically necessary home health care services for homebound individuals under the care of a doctor. These include skilled nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology services, and part-time home health aide services. To qualify for coverage, the individual must be homebound and require intermittent skilled nursing care or therapy services.

Letters of the alphabet including Medicare Part A

How Much Does Part A Cost?

Now, for the part everyone has questions about. How much is all this coverage going to cost?

Part A premium costs are determined by your work history. If you or your spouse have worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 40 quarters (equivalent to 10 years), you are typically eligible for premium-free Part A coverage. However, if you don’t qualify for premium-free Part A, you may still be able to purchase it, but you’ll have to pay a monthly premium. If you’ve worked at least 30 quarters, the 2024 Part A premium is $278. Any less than that, and you’ll owe the full premium of $505.

Medicare Part A also includes deductible amounts that beneficiaries must pay before coverage kicks in. For inpatient hospital stays, the Part A deductible amount represents the beneficiary's share of the cost for the first 60 days of a hospital stay. In 2024, the Part A deductible for inpatient hospital stays is $1,632 per benefit period. A benefit period begins the day an individual is admitted to a hospital or skilled nursing facility and ends when they haven't received any inpatient hospital or skilled nursing care for 60 consecutive days.

After the deductible is met, Medicare Part A beneficiaries may still be responsible for coinsurance and copayments for certain services. For inpatient hospital stays beyond 60 days, beneficiaries typically incur daily coinsurance amounts. For example, from day 61 to day 90 of a hospital stay in 2024, beneficiaries pay $408 per day as coinsurance. For stays beyond 90 days, beneficiaries may use "lifetime reserve days," which are an additional 60 days of coverage with higher coinsurance amounts. In 2024, the coinsurance for lifetime reserve days is $816 per day.

The cost-sharing amounts for skilled nursing facility care are different. You’ll still have to meet the same deductible, but then Medicare Part A covers the total cost for the first 20 days of care in a benefit period. However, for days 21 through 100, beneficiaries are responsible for a daily coinsurance amount. In 2024, the daily coinsurance for skilled nursing facility care is $204.

Understanding these costs associated with Medicare Part A is crucial for beneficiaries to plan for their healthcare expenses effectively. It's essential to review these costs annually, as they may change from year to year. Additionally, individuals may explore supplemental insurance options, such as Medicare Supplement plan, or Medicare Advantage plans, to help cover some of these out-of-pocket expenses and provide additional benefits beyond what Original Medicare offers.

When to Enroll in Medicare Part A

Enrolling in Medicare Part A at the right time is important so that you avoid potential penalties and have seamless access to healthcare coverage. The timing of enrollment depends on various factors, including your age, employment status, and current healthcare coverage:

For most people, the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Medicare begins three months before their 65th birthday month and ends three months after that month, totaling a seven-month period. During this time, individuals can enroll in Medicare Part A without facing any penalties. It's important to note that if an individual is already receiving Social Security benefits, they are typically automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A starting the first day of the month they turn 65.

Some individuals may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), allowing them to enroll in Medicare Part A outside of their Initial Enrollment Period without facing penalties. SEPs are granted in specific situations, such as if an individual continues to work past age 65 and receives health coverage through their employer or union.

If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period and don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you can enroll in Medicare Part A during the General Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1st to March 31st each year. However, enrolling during the General Enrollment Period may result in late enrollment penalties and delayed coverage.

One important thing to note. Individuals who have a Health Savings Account (HSA) and plan to enroll in Medicare should be aware that enrolling in any part of Medicare (including Part A) will make them ineligible to contribute to their HSA. Therefore, they may want to delay enrolling in Part A if they wish to continue contributing to their HSA.

Local Medicare Specialists: Your Guide to Medicare

Medicare might be confusing, but you don’t have to do it alone! The team of experts at Local Medicare Specialists is here to guide you on your Medicare journey. We’ve worked with thousands of beneficiaries just like you as they’ve made the transition to Medicare. We’ll get to know you and your healthcare needs and then offer you tailored, unbiased Medicare advice.

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