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Original Medicare

Still providing medical insurance for millions after more than 50 years

What is Original Medicare?

Birth of Medicare

Original Medicare is just that: the components of the Medicare program signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 30, 1965.

Sometimes called “traditional Medicare,” Original Medicare is the fee-for-service program in which the government pays directly for the health care costs you incur. The coverage allows you to see a doctor anywhere in the country (as long as the doctor accepts Medicare).

When it became law, Medicare consisted of two parts – and they’re the same two parts providing coverage to millions of Americans 45 years later:

Medicare Part A – hospital insurance

Medicare Part A is called “hospital insurance” because it provides broad coverage of inpatient expenses, including not only hospital visits, but inpatient care in skilled nursing facilities, hospice care and home health services. The coverage is typically free if you’re 65 and you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes during the years you worked.

How to enroll in Part A.

Medicare Part B – medical insurance

While Part A basically covers inpatient services, Medicare Part B is also referred to as “medical insurance” because it covers medically necessary services – including physician and nursing fees, x-rays, diagnostic tests, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, renal dialysis, and some vaccinations – and also preventive services. Enrollees pay a monthly Part B premium, but your other costs depend on whether you’re enrolled in Medicare Part A, or in another Medicare health plan.

How to enroll in Part B.

Medicare beneficiaries have the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage instead of Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans combine Parts A and B into one private plan, and usually incorporate prescription drug coverage as well.

But Medicare Advantage enrollees are confined to their plan’s provider network, rather than having access to doctors and hospitals all across the country. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries select Original Medicare, but about a third pick Medicare Advantage plans, and that percentage has been increasing with time.

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Photo: President Lyndon Johnson (left) signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, and made former President Harry S. Truman (right) the first enrollee. Standing behind the two are first ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Bess Truman flanking Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

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