Medicare and Relocating to the USA

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Relocating from one country to another is a major life decision that requires a lot of homework and careful preparations. A big deciding factor for many seniors looking to relocate to America is Medicare.

Medicare is a national health insurance program that is different from many other systems, which means education is crucial for understanding and navigating health insurance options for seniors in America. With that in mind, 65-year-old immigrants relocating to the USA will need to understand the rules and regulations for qualifying for Medicare benefits.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a national health insurance program regulated by the American government. The system is designed to aid in medical expense coverage for seniors ages 65 and older in addition to those who are disabled. An American can claim Medicare benefits and coverage when they age into it at 65 or after they have received Social Security disability benefits for at least two years.

There are multiple parts to Medicare, so it can be confusing trying to understand the different pieces. To make things simple – the parts that most Americans and U.S. immigrants need to familiarize themselves with first are Parts A, B, C and D. Parts A and Part B are commonly referred to as “Original Medicare.”

  • Part A – covers hospital expenses and other types of covered inpatient care. FICA payroll taxes fund this area of hospital benefits, so if you have worked in the United States for at least 10 years (40 quarters), your Part A premiums will be free.
  • Part B – this area of coverage is for outpatient medical services. It is not free. Most Americans enrolled in Original Medicare pay, on average, a $135.50 monthly premium.
  • Part C – also known as Medicare Advantage plans, Part C is a private insurance plan regulated by Original Medicare. Part A, Part B, and sometimes also Part D coverage are all rolled into one plan and provided by one insurance carrier.
  • Part D – is technically optional coverage you can purchase to help cover the cost of retail prescription medications. Depending on what zip code you live in, some carriers provide drug plans for as little as $18/month.

When it comes to Medicare, the biggest thing you’ll need to know is that it is not free and Medicare does not cover all medical expenses. Medicare will only cover 80 percent of approved medical expenses – you are responsible for the remaining 20 percent. In order to alleviate the responsibility of covering the leftover 20 percent, Medicare Supplement plans serve as great additional options to provide you with secondary coverage.

Immigrants and Medicare Eligibility

Medicare is a unique form of health insurance specific to the U.S. Therefore, if you are a legal citizen and 65 – you are eligible to enroll in Medicare.

Immigrants or those in the U.S. on a green card must have lived in the U.S. lawfully for at least 5 years as a permanent resident before they can apply for Medicare. You will be required to buy into Part A coverage and those premiums can cost up to $435/month (as of 2019). Only citizens that have lived and worked in the U.S. for at least 10 years and paid FICA taxes receive premium-free Part A benefits. Additionally, there will be premiums of $135.50/month for Part B coverage that everyone in America must pay, citizens included.

If you are already 65 by the time you attain citizenship, you might have to wait until the annual General Enrollment Period to apply for Medicare (Jan. 1- Mar. 31 every year). If you become a legal citizen well before your 65th birthday, you are eligible to apply for Medicare up to three months before your 65th birthday.

How to Apply for Medicare

When you decide to enroll in Medicare, you have three options for enrolling. You can go to the Social Security office to apply in person, you can apply online by visiting, or you can call the Social Security office and request an application.

In some cases, those that qualify for Medicare but aren’t legal citizens may be required to apply in person at the Social Security office.

Understanding Medicare and how it works is a complicated subject for a lot of people. It’s even more confusing for those that are new to the country. Be sure to thoroughly research your options and associated guidelines and qualifications before enrolling. It’s always encouraged to consult a professional or broker if you or a loved one have questions about Medicare.