What is Part A for Medicare?

medicare insurance, health, security, protection, and treatment on a phone.

Medicare Part A, also recognized as Hospital Insurance, plays a pivotal role in the U.S. federal health insurance program, specifically designed for individuals aged 65 and over, those with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), covering essential services such as inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facility care. This coverage is a fundamental component of Medicare, alongside Part B (Medical Insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and Part D (Drug Coverage), shaping a comprehensive health insurance structure for eligible individuals.

Navigating through Medicare necessitates an understanding of various aspects, including eligibility criteria for Medicare Part A, how to apply for Medicare, and the costs associated with Medicare Part A and B coverage. The article will further explore the scope of what does Medicare Part A cover, shedding light on disability benefits, copayments, and the nuances of Medicare Part A coverage, ensuring readers are well-informed on how to maximize their benefits.

Medicare Part A, often referred to as hospital insurance, provides a broad spectrum of healthcare services to ensure that beneficiaries receive comprehensive care during inpatient hospital stays and beyond. Here is a detailed breakdown of the coverage:

Inpatient and Hospital Services

  1. Hospital Stays: Covers semi-private rooms, meals, general nursing, and medications as part of your treatment.
  2. Skilled Nursing Facility Care: Includes services for a limited time such as skilled nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology services, provided the care does not extend to long-term or custodial care.
  3. Psychiatric Hospital Services: Up to 190 lifetime days in a Medicare-certified psychiatric hospital are covered.

Specialized Care

  1. Hospice Care: Available for terminally ill patients, this includes medical, social, and support services for patients and their families, emphasizing the quality of life for those with a life expectancy of six months or less.
  2. Home Health Services: Covers eligible home health care services such as intermittent skilled nursing care, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology services, provided the patient is officially deemed homebound.

Additional Services and Exclusions

  1. Physician and Nursing Services: While in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, services provided by physicians and nurses are covered.
  2. Exclusions: It is crucial to note that Medicare Part A does not cover long-term care, custodial care, or most prescription drugs. For services not covered by Part A, patients may need to consider additional coverage options such as Medicaid or Medicare Advantage Plans.

Understanding these details ensures beneficiaries can better manage their health needs and anticipate potential out-of-pocket costs. For specific coverage questions, consulting with healthcare providers or checking directly with Medicare is advised.

retired woman running outside

General Eligibility Requirements

  1. Age and Residency: Eligibility for Medicare Part A is generally available to individuals aged 65 or older who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
  2. Disability and Specific Conditions: Individuals under 65 who have received disability benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least 25 months, or those diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), also meet eligibility criteria under certain conditions.

Premium-Free Eligibility

  1. Work History-Linked Benefits: Most people do not pay a monthly premium for Part A if they or their spouse have paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years (40 quarters) while working. This is often referred to as “premium-free Part A.”
  2. Automatic Qualification: You automatically qualify for Medicare Part A without a premium if you are receiving retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, or if you are under 65 and have received Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits for 24 months.

Purchasing Part A and Late Enrollment Penalties

  1. Options for Purchasing Part A: If not eligible for premium-free Part A, individuals who are 65 or older, and have (or are enrolling in) Part B, can buy Part A if they meet citizenship and residency requirements.
  2. Late Enrollment Penalties: There is a late enrollment penalty for not signing up for Part B when first eligible, which emphasizes the importance of timely enrollment to avoid additional costs.

Enrolling in Medicare Part A is a critical step for those approaching eligibility. The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) provides a seven-month window surrounding an individual’s 65th birthday, which is the ideal time to enroll to avoid any late penalties. If this window is missed without qualifying for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), enrollees may face a late enrollment penalty. This penalty involves a 10% increase in premiums for twice the number of years the individual could have been enrolled but wasn’t.

For those who need to sign up outside the IEP, the process involves several key steps facilitated primarily through Social Security. Here are the detailed steps to enroll:

  1. Visit the Social Security Website: Individuals can apply online, which is the most straightforward method.
  2. Contact via Phone or In-Person: Alternatively, one can sign up by calling Social Security or visiting a local office.
  3. Provide Necessary Documentation: During the application process, individuals must provide their Social Security number, place of birth, and details of any current or past group health plans, including start and end dates.

It’s important to note that to purchase Part A, individuals must also enroll in Medicare Part B. Failing to enroll in Part B when first eligible can lead to penalties, similar to those for Part A. For those associated with the railroad industry, the Railroad Retirement Board handles the enrollment process instead of Social Security. This ensures that all necessary steps are covered, whether enrolling during the Initial Enrollment Period or beyond.

Deductibles and Premiums

Medicare Part A includes various costs that beneficiaries need to be aware of. Firstly, the deductible for each benefit period in 2024 is projected to be $1,632. This deductible covers an individual’s eligibility for hospital services for a span of 60 days. In cases where a beneficiary has not paid Medicare taxes for sufficient quarters, the monthly premium can be as high as $505. For those with 30-39 quarters of Medicare-covered employment, the premium is reduced to $278 per month.

Daily Coinsurance Rates

For extended hospital stays, Medicare Part A requires coinsurance payments, which increase with the length of the hospital stay. From days 61 to 90 of hospitalization, a beneficiary must pay a coinsurance of $408 per day. If hospitalization extends into the lifetime reserve days (91 to 150 days), the daily coinsurance doubles to $816. After the 150th day, beneficiaries are responsible for all costs associated with their care.

Skilled Nursing Facility and Other Costs

If admitted to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare Part A covers the full cost for the first 20 days. However, from day 21 to day 100, a copayment of $204 per day is required. Beyond the 100th day, the beneficiary must cover all costs. Additionally, for home health care and hospice care services covered under Part A, there is typically no copayment, except for certain prescribed drugs where a minimal copayment may apply.

two retirees on vacation

Understanding Medicare Part A is crucial for anyone navigating the U.S. healthcare system, especially for those over 65, individuals with disabilities, and those with End-Stage Renal Disease. This article has provided a comprehensive overview of Medicare Part A, including its coverage scope, eligibility criteria, enrollment process, and associated costs. By familiarizing oneself with these key areas, beneficiaries can make informed decisions about their healthcare coverage, ensuring they fully utilize the benefits available to them while managing out-of-pocket expenses effectively.

The broader implications of understanding Medicare Part A extend beyond individual beneficiaries to the healthcare system at large, as informed patients are better positioned to navigate their care. As we have seen, the complexities of Medicare Part A coverage, eligibility, and costs require careful consideration and planning. Armed with this knowledge, individuals are encouraged to consult with healthcare providers and Medicare directly for any specific coverage questions, further emphasizing the importance of being well-informed in managing one’s health and financial well-being within the Medicare system.


1. Does Medicare Part A cover all hospital expenses?
After meeting the Part A deductible, Medicare covers the entire cost of covered hospital services for the first 60 days of each benefit period when you are admitted as an inpatient. For extended hospital stays beyond this period, Part A will cover a portion of the costs.

2. Is there a premium for Medicare Part A?
Most individuals do not pay a premium for Medicare Part A because they have paid Medicare taxes while employed. However, if you did not pay Medicare taxes while working, you might have to pay a monthly premium of up to $505. Additionally, if you do not enroll in Part A when you first become eligible, typically at age 65, you may face a penalty.

3. At age 65, do I have to pay for Medicare Part A?
If you are 65 or older and a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S., you are eligible for Medicare Part A. It is available at no cost if you are receiving or eligible to receive benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).

4. What distinguishes Medicare Part A from Part B?
Medicare Part A primarily covers hospitalization, whereas Part B provides coverage for doctor visits and other outpatient medical services. Both are components of the healthcare coverage provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

This article reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of the author, Alex Cal and not necessarily of Foundations Investment Advisors, LLC (“Foundations”) and its affiliates.  It is for educational purposes only and the views reflected are subject to change at any time without notice.  The content should not be regarded as a description of Foundations’ advisory services and does not constitute an offer to sell any securities or represent an express or implied opinion or endorsement of any specific investment opportunity, offering or issuer. Each individual investor’s situation is different, and any ideas provided may not be appropriate for your particular circumstances. Foundations deems reliable any statistical data or information obtained from or prepared by third party sources included in this article, but in no way guarantees its accuracy or completeness.

This is not endorsed by the U.S. government or associated with any federal Medicare program.  We do not offer every plan available in your area.  Any information we provide is limited to those plans we do offer in your area. Please contact  Medicare.Gov or 1-800-MEDICARE to get information on all of your options.

Alex Cal

Alex Cal is a Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor with investment research experience in Real Estate, Private Equity, and Private Credit.

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