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Malti Patel

Q: What are the differences between Medicare Parts A, B, C and D?

A: There are four parts to Medicare: Medicare Part A, Hospital Insurance; Medicare Part B, Medical Insurance; Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage), which was formerly known as "Medicare + Choice;" and the new Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage. Generally, people with following qualify for Medicare Parts A and B:

1. People who are over age 65 and getting Social Security automatically qualify.

2.People who have been getting disability benefits for two years.

3. People who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and receive disability benefits.

4. People who have permanent kidney failure and receive maintenance dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Part A is paid for by a portion of Social Security tax. It helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice care and other services.

Part B is paid for by the monthly premiums of people enrolled and by general funds from the U.S. Treasury. It helps pay for doctors' fees, outpatient hospital visits, and other medical services and supplies that are not covered by Part A.

Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans allow you to choose to receive all of your health care services through a provider organization. These plans may help lower your costs of receiving medical services, or you may get extra benefits for an additional monthly fee. You must have both Parts A and B to enroll in Part C.

Part D (prescription drug coverage) is voluntary and the costs are paid for by the monthly premiums of enrollees and Medicare. Unlike Part B in which you are automatically enrolled and must opt out if you do not want it, with Part D you have to opt in by filling out a form and enrolling in an approved plan.

More information may be found in our publication called Medicare, publication number 05-10043.

Q: How long does a person need to work to become eligible for retirement benefits?

A: Everyone born in 1929 or later needs 40 Social Security credits to be eligible for retirement benefits. You can earn up to four credits per year, so you will need at least 10 years to become eligible for retirement benefits.

During your working years, earnings covered by Social Security are posted to your Social Security record, and you earn credits based on those earnings.

Each year, the amount of earnings needed for a credit rises as average earnings levels rise. In 2006, you receive one credit for each $970 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year. For 2007, you receive one credit for each $1,000 of earnings.

If you become disabled or die before age 62, the number of credits needed depends on your age at the time you die or become disabled. A minimum of 6 credits is required regardless of your age for the survivor to receive retirement benefits.

Q: My brother had an accident at work last year and is now receiving Social Security disability benefits for himself, his wife, and daughter. Before his accident, he helped support another daughter by a woman to whom he has never been married. Is the second child entitled to some benefits as well?

A: Even though your brother wasn't married to the second child's mother, the child may qualify for Social Security benefits. An application should be filed on her behalf and if eligible, both children would receive equal benefits.

Q: When should one apply for Medicare benefits?

A: Generally, people should apply for retirement benefits no more than four months before they want their benefits to begin. Even if you have no plans to receive benefits, you should still sign up for Medicare three months before age 65. A. You can apply for retirement benefits online or you also can apply by calling a toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.

Q: My husband and I are both entitled to our own Social Security benefits. Will our combined benefits be reduced because we are married?

A: No. When each person of a married couple works in employment covered under Social Security and they meet all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security benefits, their lifetime earnings are calculated independently to determine their Social Security benefit amount. Therefore, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings. Couples are not penalized simply because they are married.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas-75002. She can be reached at (469) 675-0972.

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