Doctor with clipboardA lot of people have a difficult time understanding the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Both programs begin with the letter “M.” They’re both health insurance programs run by the government. People often ask questions about what Medicare and Medicaid are, what services they cover, and who administers the programs.


Medicare is the earned-benefit program for Americans aged 65 or older, or disabled. Workers pay into Medicare throughout their working years. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the agency in charge of both Medicare and Medicaid, but you sign up for Medicare A (Hospital) and Medicare B (Medical) through Social Security.

You can apply for Medicare on the website. If you’re already receiving Social Security retirement benefits when you reach age 65 or are in the 25th month of receiving disability checks, you will be enrolled you automatically


Medicaid offers care for the most vulnerable among us,  providing coverage for older people, people with disabilities, and some families with children. Each state runs its own Medicaid program under guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Eligibility rules and services to covered vary by state, and the program may go by a different name in each state.


Helpful resources

Social Security administers a program called Extra Help to help people with low income and low resources pay for premiums, co-pays, and co-insurance costs for Part D plans. You can find out more about Extra Help and file for it at

Each year, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services publishes Medicare and You available online at This publication is a user’s manual for Medicare.

State by state Medicaid program guide:

State by state Medicaid contact directory:

Medicare and Medicaid are two of the major insurance programs that provide healthcare to the American public. Understanding each program, as well as how the two programs differ, can help you and those you care about find the right healthcare program.

Original text published on by Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications