Medicare is a federally funded system of health and hospital insurance for people age 65 and older, people younger than 65 who receive Social Security benefits and people who need dialysis or kidney transplants for the treatment of end-stage renal disease.
Typically, Medicare beneficiaries can receive medical care through physicians of their own choosing or through health maintenance organizations and other medical plans that have contracts with Medicare.
Eligibility for Medicare services does not depend on income; almost everyone who is age 65 and older is entitled to coverage. Employees are not required to retire when they reach age 65 to be protected by Medicare.
Coverage under Medicare is restricted to reasonable and medically necessary treatment in a hospital; skilled nursing home, meal and regular nursing care services; necessary special care; and home health services and hospice care for terminally ill patients.
Medicare was enacted in 1965 as one of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. The Social Security Administration originally administered Medicare, but in 1977 management was transferred to the Health Care Financing Administration (since renamed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).
Last update: Oct. 1, 2008
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