Medicare vs Medicaid | AARP® Medicare Plans from UnitedHealthcare®
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Medicare vs Medicaid

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What's the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

The words "Medicare" and "Medicaid" are so much alike that it's easy to get them confused. Both are government programs and both help people pay for health care. But that’s where the similarities end.

Medicare is generally for people who are older or disabled, and Medicaid is for people with limited income and resources.

Medicare and Medicaid comparison

The table provides more information about Medicare and Medicaid and how they compare.



  • Medicare

  • Medicaid

What is it?

A federal health insurance program for people who are:

  • 65 or older
  • Under 65 with certain disabilities
  • Of any age and have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)

A joint federal and state program that helps pay health care costs for certain people and families with limited income and resources. Different programs under the Medicaid umbrella are designed to help specific populations.

Who governs it?

Federal government

State governments

What does it cover?

Depends on the coverage you choose and may include:

  • Care and services received as an inpatient in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (Part A)
  • Doctor visits, care and services received as an outpatient, and some preventive care (Part B)
  • Prescription drugs (Part D)

Note: Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) combine Part A and Part B coverage, and often include drug coverage (Part D) as well—all in one plan.

Each state creates its own Medicaid programs, following federal guidelines. There are mandatory benefits and optional benefits. Mandatory benefits include, in part:

  • Care and services received in a hospital or skilled nursing facility
  • Care and services received in a federally-qualified health center, rural health clinic or freestanding birth center (licensed or recognized by your state)
  • Doctor, nurse midwife, and certified pediatric and family nurse practitioner services
  • And more

What does it cost?

It depends on the coverage you choose. Costs may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.

It depends on your income and the rules in your state. Costs may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Certain groups are exempt from most out-of-pocket costs.

How do I get it?

Many people are enrolled in Parts A and B automatically when they turn 65. You can also contact your local Social Security office to see if you are eligible.

Eligibility depends on the rules in your state. Call your State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) office to see if you qualify.

What does it mean to be dual eligible?

People who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid are said to be "dual eligible." If you qualify and enroll in both programs, then sometimes the two can work together to cover most of your health care costs.

For information about dual eligible programs, you can call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213, TTY 1-800-325-0778, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday, or contact your state Medical Assistance or Medicaid office.

Medicare Savings Programs are state-run Medicaid programs designed to help with the cost of Medicare. There are four different programs with slightly different qualifications and benefits. Qualifying income and resource levels are set by the federal government, but each state decides what counts when calculating this for an individual.

What do you want to do next ?


Or prepare for Medicare initial enrollment