Medicare Glossary

A

Advance Beneficiary Notice of Noncoverage (ABN)

In Original Medicare, a notice that a doctor, supplier, or provider gives a person with Medicare before furnishing an item or service if the doctor, supplier, or provider believes that Medicare may deny payment. In this situation, if you aren't given an ABN before you get the item or service, and Medicare denies payment, then you may not have to pay for it. If you are given an ABN, and you sign it, you'll probably have to pay for the item or service if Medicare denies payment.


 Advance coverage decision

A notice you get from a Medicare Advantage Plan letting you know in advance whether it will cover a particular service.


 Advance directive

A written document stating how you want medical decisions to be made if you lose the ability to make them for yourself. It may include a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.


 ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.


 Ambulatory surgical center

A facility where certain surgeries may be performed for patients who aren’t expected to need more than 24 hours of care.


 Appeal

An appeal is the action you can take if you disagree with a coverage or payment decision made by Medicare, your Medicare health plan, or your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. You can appeal if Medicare or your plan denies one of these:

  • Your request for a health care service, supply, item, or prescription drug that you think you should be able to get
  • Your request for payment for a health care service, supply, item, or prescription drug you already got
  • Your request to change the amount you must pay for a health care service, supply, item or prescription drug.

You can also appeal if Medicare or your plan stops providing or paying for all or part of a service, supply, item, or prescription drug you think you still need


 Assignment

An agreement by your doctor, provider, or supplier to be paid directly by Medicare, to accept the payment amount Medicare approves for the service, and not to bill you for any more than the Medicare deductible and coinsurance.

 

B

Beneficiary and Family Centered Care Quality Improvement Organization (BFCC-QIO)

A type of QIO (an organization of doctors and other health care experts under contract with Medicare) that uses doctors and other health care experts to review complaints and quality of care for people with Medicare. The BFCC-QIO makes sure there is consistency in the case review process while taking into consideration local factors and local needs, including general quality of care and medical necessity.


 

Benefit period

The way that Original Medicare measures your use of hospital and skilled nursing facility (SNF) services. A benefit period begins the day you're admitted as an inpatient in a hospital or SNF. The benefit period ends when you haven't gotten any inpatient hospital care (or skilled care in a SNF) for 60 days in a row. If you go into a hospital or a SNF after one benefit period has ended, a new benefit period begins. You must pay the inpatient hospital deductible for each benefit period. There's no limit to the number of benefit periods.


Benefits Coordination & Recovery Center (BCRC)

The company that acts on behalf of Medicare to collect and manage information on other types of insurance or coverage that a person with Medicare may have, and determine whether the coverage pays before or after Medicare. This company also acts on behalf of Medicare to obtain repayment when Medicare makes a conditional payment, and the other payer is determined to be primary.

 

C

Certified (certification)

See "Medicare-certified provider."


CHAMPVA

A health care benefit for dependents of qualifying veterans.


Claim

A request for payment that you submit to Medicare or other health insurance when you get items and services that you think are covered.


Clinical breast exam

An exam by your doctor or other health care provider to check for breast cancer by feeling and looking at your breasts. This exam isn't the same as a mammogram and is usually done in the doctor's office during your Pap test and pelvic exam.


Coinsurance

An amount you may be required to pay as your share of the cost for services after you pay any deductibles. Coinsurance is usually a percentage (for example, 20%).


Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility

A facility that provides a variety of services on an outpatient basis, including physicians' services, physical therapy, social or psychological services, and rehabilitation.


Copayment

An amount you may be required to pay as your share of the cost for a medical service or supply, like a doctor's visit, hospital outpatient visit, or prescription drug. A copayment is usually a set amount, rather than a percentage. For example, you might pay $10 or $20 for a doctor's visit or prescription drug.


Coverage determination (Part D)

The first decision made by your Medicare drug plan (not the pharmacy) about your drug benefits, including:

  • Whether a particular drug is covered
  • Whether you have met all the requirements for getting a requested drug
  • How much you’re required to pay for a drug
  • Whether to make an exception to a plan rule when you request it

The drug plan must give you a prompt decision (72 hours for standard requests, 24 hours for expedited requests).  If you disagree with the plan’s coverage determination, the next step is an appeal.


Coverage gap

A period of time in which you pay higher cost sharing for prescription drugs until you spend enough to qualify for catastrophic coverage. The coverage gap (also called the “donut hole”) starts when you and your plan have paid a set dollar amount for prescription drugs during that year.


Creditable coverage

See "creditable coverage (Medigap)" or "creditable prescription drug coverage."


Creditable coverage (Medigap)

Previous health insurance coverage that can be used to shorten a pre-existing condition waiting period under a Medigap policy.


Creditable prescription drug coverage

Prescription drug coverage (for example, from an employer or union) that's expected to pay, on average, at least as much as Medicare's standard prescription drug coverage. People who have this kind of coverage when they become eligible for Medicare can generally keep that coverage without paying a penalty, if they decide to enroll in Medicare prescription drug coverage later.


Critical access hospital (CAH)

A small facility located in a rural area more than 35 miles (or 15 miles if mountainous terrain or in areas with only secondary roads) from another hospital or critical access hospital. This facility provides 24/7 emergency care, has 25 or fewer inpatient beds, and maintains an average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients.


Custodial care

Non-skilled personal care, like help with activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, eating, getting in or out of a bed or chair, moving around, and using the bathroom. It may also include the kind of health-related care that most people do themselves, like using eye drops. In most cases, Medicare doesn't pay for custodial care. 

D

Deductible

The amount you must pay for health care or prescriptions before Original Medicare, your prescription drug plan, or your other insurance begins to pay.


Demonstrations

Special projects, sometimes called "pilot programs" or "research studies," that test improvements in Medicare coverage, payment, and quality of care. They usually operate only for a limited time, for a specific group of people, and in specific areas.


Diethylstilbestrol (DES)

A drug given to pregnant women from the early 1940s until 1971 to help with common problems during pregnancy. The drug has been linked to cancer of the cervix or vagina in women whose mother took the drug while pregnant.


Durable Medical Equipment (DME)

Certain medical equipment, like a walker, wheelchair, or hospital bed, that's ordered by your doctor for use in the home.


Durable power of attorney

A legal document that names someone else to make health care decisions for you. This is helpful if you become unable to make your own decisions.

E

End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)

Permanent kidney failure that requires a regular course of dialysis or a kidney transplant.


Exception

A type of Medicare prescription drug coverage determination. A formulary exception is a drug plan's decision to cover a drug that's not on its drug list or to waive a coverage rule. A tiering exception is a drug plan's decision to charge a lower amount for a drug that's on its non-preferred drug tier. You or your prescriber must request an exception, and your doctor or other prescriber must provide a supporting statement explaining the medical reason for the exception.


Excess charge

If you have Original Medicare, and the amount a doctor or other health care provider is legally permitted to charge is higher than the Medicare-approved amount, the difference is called the excess charge.


Extra Help

A Medicare program to help people with limited income and resources pay Medicare prescription drug program costs, like premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance.

F

Formulary

A list of prescription drugs covered by a prescription drug plan or another insurance plan offering prescription drug benefits. Also called a drug list.

 

G

Grievance

A complaint about the way your Medicare health plan or Medicare drug plan is giving care. For example, you may file a grievance if you have a problem calling the plan or if you're unhappy with the way a staff person at the plan has behaved towards you. However, if you have a complaint about a plan's refusal to cover a service, supply, or prescription, you file an appeal.


Group health plan

In general, a health plan offered by an employer or employee organization that provides health coverage to employees and their families.


Guaranteed issue rights (also called "Medigap protections")

Rights you have in certain situations when insurance companies are required by law to sell or offer you a Medigap policy. In these situations, an insurance company can't deny you a Medigap policy, or place conditions on a Medigap policy, like exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and can't charge you more for a Medigap policy because of a past or present health problem.


Guaranteed renewable policy

An insurance policy that can't be terminated by the insurance company unless you make untrue statements to the insurance company, commit fraud, or don't pay your premiums. All Medigap policies issued since 1992 are guaranteed renewable.

 

H

Health care provider

A person or organization that's licensed to give health care. Doctors, nurses, and hospitals are examples of health care providers.


Health Insurance Marketplace

A service that helps people shop for and enroll in affordable health insurance. The federal government operates the Marketplace, available at HealthCare.gov, for most states. Some states run their own Marketplaces.

The Health Insurance Marketplace (also known as the “Marketplace” or “exchange”) provides health plan shopping and enrollment services through websites, call centers, and in-person help.


Home health agency

An organization that provides home health care.


Home health care

Health care services and supplies a doctor decides you may get in your home under a plan of care established by your doctor. Medicare only covers home health care on a limited basis as ordered by your doctor.


Hospice

A special way of caring for people who are terminally ill. Hospice care involves a team-oriented approach that addresses the medical, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. Hospice also provides support to the patient's family or caregiver.

I

Independent reviewer

An organization (sometimes called an Independent Review Entity or IRE) that has no connection to your Medicare health plan or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Medicare contracts with the IRE to review your case if you appeal your plan's payment or coverage decision or if your plan doesn't make a timely appeals decision.


Inpatient rehabilitation facility

A hospital, or part of a hospital, that provides an intensive rehabilitation program to inpatients.

 

J

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

K

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

L

Large group health plan

In general, a group health plan that covers employees of either an employer or employee organization that has at least 100 employees.


Lifetime reserve days

In Original Medicare, these are additional days that Medicare will pay for when you're in a hospital for more than 90 days. You have a total of 60 reserve days that can be used during your lifetime. For each lifetime reserve day, Medicare pays all covered costs except for a daily coinsurance.


Limiting charge

In Original Medicare, the highest amount of money you can be charged for a covered service by doctors and other health care suppliers who don't accept assignment. The limiting charge is 15% over Medicare's approved amount. The limiting charge only applies to certain services and doesn't apply to supplies or equipment.


Living will

A written legal document, also called a "medical directive" or "advance directive." It shows what type of treatments you want or don’t want in case you can’t speak for yourself, like whether you want life support. Usually, this document only comes into effect if you’re unconscious.


Long-term care

Services that include medical and non-medical care provided to people who are unable to perform basic activities of daily living, like dressing or bathing. Long-term supports and services can be provided at home, in the community, in assisted living, or in nursing homes. Individuals may need long-term supports and services at any age. Medicare and most health insurance plans don’t pay for long-term care.


Long-term care hospital

Acute care hospitals that provide treatment for patients who stay, on average, more than 25 days. Most patients are transferred from an intensive or critical care unit. Services provided include comprehensive rehabilitation, respiratory therapy, head trauma treatment, and pain management.


Long-term care ombudsman

An independent advocate (supporter) for nursing home and assisted living facility residents who works to solve problems of residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or similar facilities. They may be able to provide information about home health agencies in their area.

 

M

Medicaid

A joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. Medicaid programs vary from state to state, but most health care costs are covered if you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.


Medical underwriting

The process that an insurance company uses to decide, based on your medical history, whether to take your application for insurance, whether to add a waiting period for pre-existing conditions (if your state law allows it), and how much to charge you for that insurance.


Medically necessary

Health care services or supplies needed to diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease, or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.


Medicare

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for:

  • People who are 65 or older
  • Certain younger people with disabilities
  • People with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD)

Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)

A type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans provide all of your Part A and Part B benefits, excluding hospice. Medicare Advantage Plans include:

  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Preferred Provider Organizations
  • Private Fee-for-Service Plans
  • Special Needs Plans
  • Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans

If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan:

  • Most Medicare services are covered through the plan
  • Medicare services aren’t paid for by Original Medicare

Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage.


Medicare-approved amount

In Original Medicare, this is the amount a doctor or supplier that accepts assignment can be paid. It may be less than the actual amount a doctor or supplier charges. Medicare pays part of this amount and you’re responsible for the difference.


Medicare-certified provider

A health care provider (like a home health agency, hospital, nursing home, or dialysis facility) that's been approved by Medicare. Providers are approved or "certified" by Medicare if they've passed an inspection conducted by a state government agency. Medicare only covers care given by providers who are certified.


Medicare Cost Plan

A type of Medicare health plan available in some areas. In a Medicare Cost Plan, if you get services outside of the plan's network without a referral, your Medicare-covered services will be paid for under Original Medicare (your Cost Plan pays for emergency services or urgently needed services).


Medicare drug coverage (Part D)

Optional benefits for prescription drugs available to all people with Medicare for an additional charge. This coverage is offered by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare.


Medicare drug plan (Part D)

Part D adds prescription drug coverage to:

  • Original Medicare
  • Some Medicare Cost Plans
  • Some Medicare Private-Fee-for-Service Plans
  • Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans

These plans are offered by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans may also offer prescription drug coverage that follows the same rules as Medicare  drug plans.


Medicare Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plan

A type of Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) available in some areas of the country. In most HMOs, you can only go to doctors, specialists, or hospitals on the plan's list except in an emergency. Most HMOs also require you to get a referral from your primary care physician.


Medicare health plan

Generally, a plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits to people with Medicare who enroll in the plan. Medicare health plans include all Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare Cost Plans, and Demonstration/Pilot Programs. Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) organizations are special types of Medicare health plans. PACE plans can be offered by public or private companies and provide Part D and other benefits in addition to Part A and Part B benefits.


Medicare Medical Savings Account (MSA) Plan

MSA Plans combine a high deductible Medicare Advantage Plan and a bank account. The plan deposits money from Medicare into the account. You can use the money in this account to pay for your health care costs, but only Medicare-covered expenses count toward your deductible. The amount deposited is usually less than your deductible amount so you generally will have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage begins.


Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance)

Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care.


Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance)

Part B covers certain doctors' services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.


Medicare plan

Any way other than Original Medicare that you can get your Medicare health or prescription drug coverage. This term includes all Medicare health plans and Medicare drug plans.


Medicare Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plan

A type of Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) available in some areas of the country in which you pay less if you use doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers that belong to the plan's network. You can use doctors, hospitals, and providers outside of the network for an additional cost. 


Medicare Private Fee-For-Service (PFFS) Plan

A type of Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) in which you can generally go to any doctor or hospital you could go to if you had Original Medicare, if the doctor or hospital agrees to treat you. The plan determines how much it will pay doctors and hospitals, and how much you must pay when you get care.

A Private Fee-For-Service Plan is very different than Original Medicare, and you must follow the plan rules carefully when you go for health care services. When you're in a Private Fee-For-Service Plan, you may pay more or less for Medicare-covered benefits than in Original Medicare. 


Medicare Savings Program

A Medicaid program that helps people with limited income and resources pay some or all of their Medicare premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance.


Medicare SELECT

A type of Medigap policy that may require you to use hospitals and, in some cases, doctors within its network to be eligible for full benefits.


Medicare Special Needs Plan (SNP)

A special type of Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) that provides more focused and specialized health care for specific groups of people, like those who have both Medicare and Medicaid, who live in a nursing home, or have certain chronic medical conditions.


Medicare Summary Notice (MSN)

A notice you get after the doctor, other health care provider, or supplier files a claim for Part A or Part B services in Original Medicare. It explains what the doctor, other health care provider, or supplier billed for, the Medicare-approved amount, how much Medicare paid, and what you must pay.


Medigap Open Enrollment Period

A one-time only, 6-month period when federal law allows you to buy any Medigap policy you want that's sold in your state. It starts in the first month that you're covered under Part B and you're age 65 or older. During this period, you can't be denied a Medigap policy or charged more due to past or present health problems. Some states may have additional open enrollment rights under state law.


Medigap policy

Medicare Supplement Insurance sold by private insurance companies to fill "gaps" in Original Medicare coverage.


Multi-employer plan

In general, a group health plan that's sponsored jointly by 2 or more employers.

N

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

O

Original Medicare

Original Medicare is a fee-for-service health plan that has two parts: Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance). After you pay a deductible, Medicare pays its share of the Medicare-approved amount, and you pay your share (coinsurance and deductibles).


out-of-pocket costs

Health or prescription drug costs that you must pay on your own because they aren’t covered by Medicare or other insurance.

 

P

Pap test

A test to check for cancer of the cervix, the opening to a woman's uterus. It's done by removing cells from the cervix. The cells are then prepared so they can be seen under a microscope.


Pelvic exam

An exam to check if internal female organs are normal by feeling their shape and size.


Penalty

An amount added to your monthly premium for Part B or a Medicare drug plan (Part D) if you don't join when you're first eligible. You pay this higher amount as long as you have Medicare. There are some exceptions.


Pilot programs

See "Demonstrations."


Point-of-service option

In a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), this option lets you use doctors and hospitals outside the plan for an additional cost.


Power of attorney

A medical power of attorney is a document that lets you appoint someone you trust to make decisions about your medical care. This type of advance directive also may be called a health care proxy, appointment of health care agent, or a durable power of attorney for health care.


Pre-existing condition

A health problem you had before the date that new health coverage starts.


Premium

The periodic payment to Medicare, an insurance company, or a health care plan for health or prescription drug coverage.


Preventive services

Health care to prevent illness or detect illness at an early stage, when treatment is likely to work best (for example, preventive services include Pap tests, flu shots, and screening mammograms).


Primary care doctor

The doctor you see first for most health problems. He or she makes sure you get the care you need to keep you healthy. He or she also may talk with other doctors and health care providers about your care and refer you to them. In many Medicare Advantage Plans, you must see your primary care doctor before you see any other health care provider.


Prior authorization

Approval that you must get from a Medicare drug plan before you fill your prescription in order for the prescription to be covered by your plan. Your Medicare drug plan may require prior authorization for certain drugs.


Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

A special type of health plan that provides all the care and services covered by Medicare and Medicaid as well as additional medically necessary care and services based on your needs as determined by an interdisciplinary team. PACE serves frail older adults who need nursing home services but are capable of living in the community. PACE combines medical, social, and long-term care services and prescription drug coverage.

 

Q

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

R

Referral

A written order from your primary care doctor for you to see a specialist or get certain medical services. In many Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), you need to get a referral before you can get medical care from anyone except your primary care doctor. If you don't get a referral first, the plan may not pay for the services.


Rehabilitation services

Health care services that help you keep, get back, or improve skills and functioning for daily living that you've lost or have been impaired because you were sick, hurt, or disabled. These services may include physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and psychiatric rehabilitation services in a variety of inpatient and/or outpatient settings.


Religious nonmedical health care institution

A facility that provides nonmedical health care items and services to people who need hospital or skilled nursing facility care, but for whom that care would be inconsistent with their religious beliefs.


Respite care

Temporary care provided in a nursing home, hospice inpatient facility, or hospital so that a family member or friend who is the patient's caregiver can rest or take some time off.

 

S

Secondary payer

The insurance policy, plan, or program that pays second on a claim for medical care. This could be Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance depending on the situation.


Service area

A geographic area where a health insurance plan accepts members if it limits membership based on where people live. For plans that limit which doctors and hospitals you may use, it's also generally the area where you can get routine (non-emergency) services. The plan may disenroll you if you move out of the plan's service area.


Skilled nursing care

Care like intravenous injections that can only be given by a registered nurse or doctor.


Skilled nursing facility (SNF)

A nursing facility with the staff and equipment to give skilled nursing care and, in most cases, skilled rehabilitative services and other related health services.


Skilled nursing facility (SNF) care

Skilled nursing care and rehabilitation services provided on a daily basis, in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). Examples of SNF care include physical therapy or intravenous injections that can only be given by a registered nurse or doctor.


State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

A state program that gets money from the federal government to give free local health insurance counseling to people with Medicare.


State Insurance Department

A state agency that regulates insurance and can provide information about Medigap policies and other private health insurance.


State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) office

A state or local agency that can give information about, and help with applications for, Medicaid programs that help pay medical bills for people with limited income and resources.


State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP)

A state program that provides help paying for drug coverage based on financial need, age, or medical condition.


State Survey Agency

A state agency that oversees health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs by, for example,  inspecting health care facilities and investigating complaints to ensure that health and safety standards are met. Test


Step therapy

A coverage rule used by some Medicare Prescription Drug Plans that requires you to try one or more similar, lower cost drugs to treat your condition before the plan will cover the prescribed drug.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

A monthly benefit paid by Social Security to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. SSI benefits aren't the same as Social Security retirement or disability benefits.


Supplier

Generally, any company, person, or agency that gives you a medical item or service, except when you're an inpatient in a hospital or skilled nursing facility.

T

Telemedicine

Medical or other health services given to a patient using a communications system (like a computer, phone, or television) by a practitioner in a location different than the patient's.


Tiers

Groups of drugs that have a different cost for each group. Generally, a drug in a lower tier will cost you less than a drug in a higher tier.


TTY

A TTY (teletypewriter) is a communication device used by people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have severe speech impairment. People who don't have a TTY can communicate with a TTY user through a message relay center (MRC). An MRC has TTY operators available to send and interpret TTY messages.

 

U

Urgently needed care

Care that you get outside of your Medicare health plan's service area for a sudden illness or injury that needs medical care right away but isn’t life threatening. If it’s not safe to wait until you get home to get care from a plan doctor, the health plan must pay for the care.

 

V

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

W

Workers' compensation

An insurance plan that employers are required to have to cover employees who get sick or injured on the job.

 

X

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

Y

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

Z

There are no words in our glossary that begin with this letter.

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