How to Qualify for Medicare and Medicaid

Written by 
Molly Burford
Article at a glance
  • Medicare and Medicaid are separate healthcare programs. Medicare is based on age and Medicare taxes while Medicaid is based on income level.

  • Some people can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid, a program known as the Dual Eligibles. 

Person hugging an older adult from behind

In 1965, the federal government introduced both Medicaid and Medicare. Despite the similar-sounding names, Medicare and Medicaid are two different programs, each one having different eligibility rules and coverage. 

That said, some Americans are actually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid coverage. This program is known as the Medicare-Medicaid Dual Eligibles Program. This article will explain how to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.

What Is Medicare?

The Federal Medicare Program provides health insurance for people age 65 and older, younger Americans with certain disabilities, or those with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). There are two main ways to sign up for Medicare coverage. Enrollees can either enroll in an Original Medicare plan or a Medicare Advantage plan.

What Is Original Medicare? 

Original Medicare is the first iteration of Medicare. Original Medicare benefits are divided into two Medicare Parts. Each of these portions covers specific types of healthcare services. The Parts of Original Medicare are called Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance).

While Original Medicare coverage is quite comprehensive, Medicare does not cover everything. Some examples of what is not covered by Medicare include: 

  • Dental coverage

  • Vision coverage

  • Hearing coverage

  • Prescription drug coverage

Original Medicare beneficiaries can still get coverage for prescription drugs but would need to sign up for a Medicare drug plan in order to receive that coverage. These plans are known as Medicare Part D. 

How Much Does Medicare Cost? 

Medicare costs change annually, and these costs vary based on a variety of factors including other health insurance the beneficiary may have, as well as the beneficiary’s location, income, and more. 

What Is Medicare Advantage? 

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C or MA plans, are supplemental Medicare plans. Medicare Advantage plans bundle Medicare Part A and Part B into one health insurance plan. MA plans are offered through private insurers that are Medicare-approved.

Most Medicare Advantage plans also have additional benefits, including dental, hearing, and vision coverage. MA plans also often include Medicare Part D within its policies. 

Who Is Eligible for Medicare?

Those who worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years are eligible to sign up for Medicare around age 65. Other people eligible for Medicare include:

  • Americans 65 and younger with disabilities

  • Americans 65 and younger with end-stage renal disease (ESRD)

  • Spouses

Note: Learn more about Medicare eligibility at this resource.

older man smiling in diner with coffee cup

What Is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage for over 76 million Americans. Medicaid was designed to cut health care costs for those with limited income.

While Medicaid benefits vary by state, the United States Government mandates the following services by covered: 

  • Inpatient hospital services

  • Outpatient hospital services

  • EPSDT: Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment Services

  • Nursing Facility Services

  • Home health services

  • Physician services

  • Rural health clinic services

  • Federally qualified health center services

  • Laboratory and X-ray services

  • Transportation to medical care

  • And more…

There are also optional Medicaid benefits states can include within their Medicaid coverage such as prescription drugs, eyeglasses, physical therapy, and others. 

How Much Does Medicaid Cost? 

Medicaid costs will differ from state to state. Interested persons should contact their state’s Medicaid office for more information. 

Who Is Eligible for Medicaid?

Those eligible for Medicaid generally include low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults, people with disabilities, and those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each of these groups is referred to as a mandatory eligibility group. According to federal law, these groups are entitled to Medicaid coverage.

Individual states can choose to cover additional groups, such as Americans receiving home and community-based care. 

However, Medicaid eligibility isn’t that straightforward. There are certain criteria that must be met within each of those groups in order to be eligible. The Affordable Care Act created a new set of requirements based on financial eligibility and non-financial eligibility. 

In order to be eligible for Medicaid based on finances, an interested person must have a certain Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). For non-financial eligibility, an interested person must be a resident of the state they are receiving Medicaid benefits from as well as meet other criteria.


Note: Learn more about Medicaid eligibility at this resource.

Medicare and Medicaid Eligibility Rules

The Medicare-Medicaid Dual Eligibles program is for beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare benefits and Medicaid benefits. Currently, 12 million Americans are dually eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare benefits. 

Eligibility for the Dual Eligibles program is based on Social Security Administration income methodologies. These methodologies are determined by where someone falls under the Federal Poverty Level. 

What Is The Medicare Savings Program?

Medicare Savings Programs are Medicaid programs for Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and resources. These programs help beneficiaries pay for their Medicare benefits. For example, some of these programs pay premiums, such as the Medicare Part B monthly premium.

There are four types of Medicare Savings Programs:

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB)

  • Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB)

  • Qualifying Individual (QI)

  • Qualified Disabled Working Individual (QDWI)

Each program will have different income and resource eligibility limits. Learn more about Medicare Savings Programs at this resource.

Dual Eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid FAQ

Does Medicare or Medicaid pay first? 

Medicare pays first, Medicaid pays second. Medicaid never pays first for services covered by Medicare. Medicaid will only pay after either Medicare, employer group health plans, and/​or Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Insurance plans have paid.

How does someone apply for Medicaid? 

Every state will have different rules for both Medicaid eligibility and applying. Interested persons should contact their local State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) office for more information. 

What does the Medicaid spend down” mean? 

For those whose incomes exceed the Medicaid income limits, some states allow interested persons to spend down” to become eligible for the Medicaid program. The spend down” process allows potential beneficiaries to subtract their medical expenses from their income. 

Note: Find a Medicare-Medicaid plan here.

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