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Medicare Insurance: Is It Primary or Secondary?

2 mins read
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In the complex healthcare insurance world, understanding the roles of primary and secondary coverage is essential. Primary insurance is the first line of defense, the one that steps up and pays for healthcare services initially. Secondary insurance, on the other hand, comes into play after the primary coverage and helps pick up the remaining costs.

In this informative guide, we delve into the intricate relationship between Medicare and its role as either primary or secondary insurance. The purpose here is to shed light on the various scenarios and situations in which Medicare can take on these roles, providing clarity for individuals navigating their healthcare coverage options.

When is Medicare Primary?

Medicare can serve as primary insurance in several circumstances, depending on various factors. Here is a list of situations and scenarios in which Medicare takes on the role of primary insurance, ensuring you understand when it becomes the first line of coverage for your healthcare needs:

  1. You are 65 or Older and Your Employer is a Small Business: If your employer has fewer than 20 employees, Medicare becomes your primary insurance. In such cases, Medicare pays first, and your group insurance from your small employer serves as secondary coverage.
  2. Retiree Coverage or COBRA: When you have retiree coverage from a former employer or enroll in COBRA, Medicare becomes the primary insurance provider. In this scenario, your retiree coverage or COBRA acts as secondary insurance.
  3. You Are on SSDI Under Age 65 at a Medium-Sized Employer: Some individuals qualify for Medicare early due to a disability. If your employer has fewer than 100 employees and you have group coverage through them, Medicare becomes your primary insurance.
  4. End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD): If you have ESRD, Medicare will automatically transition to being your primary insurance after the 30th month. Your employer insurance, retiree coverage, or COBRA will pay secondary in these situations.
  5. Tricare-for-Life (TFL): Military retirees and their spouses eligible for both Medicare and Tricare-for-Life (TFL) will find that Medicare serves as the primary insurance for care received at non-military providers. Enrolling in both Medicare Part A and Part B is necessary in this scenario.
  6. Medicaid Recipients: Medicaid, assistance for those with low incomes, always pays after Medicare and employer group health coverage. It is crucial to inquire with healthcare providers if they accept Medicaid before seeking care.

When is Medicare Secondary?

Medicare can also function as secondary insurance in specific situations, depending on various factors. Below is a list of scenarios and circumstances where Medicare assumes the role of secondary insurance:

  1. You Work at a Large Employer: If your employer has 20 or more employees and provides group health insurance, Medicare becomes secondary. In such cases, your employer’s group insurance serves as your primary coverage.
  2. You Have Filed a Workers Compensation Claim: If you have Medicare and sustain an injury on the job, workers’ compensation will be your primary insurance for healthcare services related to your work-related injury. Medicare will act as secondary insurance in this scenario.

CoverRight is your trusted source for navigating the complexities of Medicare and healthcare insurance.


What happens if I disenroll from a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan?

If you choose to disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Supplement plan, your Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) becomes your primary insurance once again. You can switch back to Original Medicare during specific enrollment periods, and it will resume its role as your primary coverage.

How do payments work if I have both primary and secondary insurance?

“When you hold both primary and secondary insurance, the two plans actively coordinate payments. Initially, your primary insurance, which could be Medicare if you’re eligible, covers the costs as per its policy. Then, the secondary insurance, possibly your COBRA coverage if you’ve recently retired or lost your job, steps in. It helps cover additional costs that the primary insurance doesn’t, like certain deductibles or copays. This coordination between the two types of insurance can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.

What happens if I am on group insurance through my employer but then I retire or get fired?

If you have group insurance through your employer and then retire or lose your job, your coverage situation may change. You will likely have the option to continue your group insurance coverage through COBRA or transition to Medicare, depending on your eligibility. It’s essential to evaluate your healthcare coverage options carefully during this transition period to ensure you have the appropriate primary and secondary insurance in place.

Connor Wilson

Connor is a Content Writer at CoverRight focused on editing and publishing Medicare and health insurance-related information. He also serves the team as a Business Operations Lead, working to expand the business and enhance its strategy. Prior to joining CoverRight, Connor was able to hone his knowledge of the financial services industry through his work in investment banking.

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