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Can My Immigrant Parents Get Medicare?

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Summary: Medicare is available for everyone who qualifies, no matter whether the person is an immigrant. You have to meet certain residency requirements as well as age or disability criteria.

Lady Liberty . . . Disney World . . . the lights of Broadway . . . the wind-swept prairies . . . the Grand Canyon . . . and lush vineyards of California. After years of visiting America, my parents, now age 65, immigrated to the United States to take up their lives close to family. They have a cozy home, a tidy savings, and their green cards. But can they get Medicare?

Medicare for immigrants: is it possible?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program. It’s primarily for people age 65 and older. Some younger people may qualify for Medicare if they have certain health conditions or disabilities. Your parents, like others, have to meet the eligibility requirements for Medicare. To qualify for full Medicare benefits:

  • Your parents must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents who have lived in the United States for at least five continuous years.
  • They must be age 65 or older, or qualify due to a disability.

Your parents get Medicare separately. Both your Mom and your Dad need to apply – one application won’t cover both of them. Each parent will also have to qualify for Medicare separately in most cases.

For example, suppose Mom is 61 and Dad is 65. Generally, Dad might be eligible for Medicare if he meets eligibility requirements. But Mom won’t qualify at age 61 in most cases. If she has a disability that qualifies her for Medicare before age 65, and she meets residency and legal status requirement, she might be eligible.

How does immigration status affect Medicare enrollment?

First, to qualify for Medicare, an immigrant must be a lawful permanent resident of the United States. For example, if your immigrant parent has a green card and has lived in the U.S. at least five years, he or she may qualify for Medicare. Undocumented immigrants are not able to get Medicare.

Many older people who immigrate later in life have little or no work history in the United States. This can affect their Medicare costs.. If this situation applies to your parents, they will likely need to meet the 5-year permanent residency requirement. Once they meet this requirement, they can generally enroll in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance). They can enroll in Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) if they have Part A and/or Part B.

Medicare for immigrants: When does the clock start to establish permanent legal residency?

Usually the 5-year period of U.S. residency begins on the day the immigrant arrives in the U.S. with a green card and the intent to establish a permanent home. The times your parents visited the U.S. on business, vacations or family reunions don’t count toward the 5-year residency. Visitors are assumed to have permanent residence in their home country. On the other hand, your parents won’t lose their continuing residency if they make a few short trips outside the U.S. as long as they maintain their permanent home in the U.S.

How much does Medicare for immigrants cost?

The Social Security Administration usually decides if someone is eligible for Medicare. Once your parents have met the permanent legal residency requirements, and the age or disability requirements, they can then apply for Medicare coverage.

Be aware that Medicare for immigrants may cost more than it does for U.S. citizens. Most U.S. citizens who have Medicare receive premium-free Medicare Part A because they paid Medicare taxes while working (about 10 years or longer). Unless your parents have this qualifying U.S. work history, they will have to pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part A. Medicare Part B also comes with a monthly premium. Other types of Medicare coverage, available from private insurance companies, may also charge monthly premiums.

In 2019, Medicare Part A premiums can cost up to $437 per month. The standard Medicare Part B premium is $135.50 per month in 2019. Medicare Part D premiums may vary, depending upon the Medicare plan selected.

What about Medicare Advantage for immigrants?

If your parents decide to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B when they are eligible, they usually have the option to receive their Medicare benefits from a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by Medicare-approved private insurance companies, which provide at least the same level of coverage as Medicare Part A and Part B. They often provide additional benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, routine dental, vision, and hearing coverage. Your parents would continue to pay their Medicare premiums along with the plan premium. The Medicare Advantage premium (if any) varies by plan.

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