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Medicare vs. Medi-Cal: What You Should Know

3 mins read
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Understanding the details of healthcare coverage is crucial to ensure access to necessary support services, especially for senior citizens and at-risk groups. In the U.S., Medicare and Medi-Cal are two major public health programs with unique benefits. Despite their similar names, these programs differ significantly in scope, eligibility criteria, and coverage. 

This article demystifies the differences between Medicare, a federal healthcare program, and Medi-Cal, which is California’s version of Medicaid. We examine how each program operates, who they serve, and what services they provide to help you manage your healthcare coverage optimally.

What Is Medicare?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program primarily for individuals aged 65 years and older, although it also caters to younger people with certain disabilities and patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Its goal is to assist beneficiaries with their healthcare, although it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care.

Medicare healthcare coverage is divided into several parts:

  • Part A (Hospital Insurance): Covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care.
  • Part B (Medical Insurance): Covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans): Part C is a private plan option that combines Part A and Part B and often includes Part D along with additional benefits.
  • Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): Part D offers coverage for prescription medications, complementing Original Medicare.

What Is Medi-Cal?

Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, a public health plan that provides comprehensive healthcare services to low-income individuals and families. It’s designed to ensure essential healthcare services are accessible to those who may not be able to afford them otherwise.

Eligibility for Medi-Cal is primarily based on income. For example, individuals earning up to $20,120 per year or families of four making $41,400 annually may qualify for Medi-Cal’s free or low-cost coverage. The program caters to a broad spectrum of Californians, including pregnant women, children, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities or specific health conditions.

The services covered under Medi-Cal are extensive. They include inpatient and outpatient care, preventive services, mental health treatment, dental care, and prescription drugs. For many enrollees, Medi-Cal provides access to necessary medical services that might otherwise be financially out of their reach. This ensures both basic and specialized care for a diverse population.

Key Differences Between Medicare and Medi-Cal

The primary distinctions between Medicare and Medi-Cal lie in their administration, eligibility, and coverage scope. 

Medicare is a federal program administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medi-Cal, managed by the California Department of Health Care Services, is the state’s Medicaid program that assists low-income individuals and families.

While Medicare eligibility is primarily age-based, Medi-Cal considers income and family size, with specific thresholds to qualify for free or subsidized healthcare. Medicare offers uniform benefits across states, whereas Medi-Cal’s coverage can vary based on California’s state policies.

In terms of services, Medicare has distinct parts that cover hospitalization, medical expenses, and prescription drugs. Medi-Cal, however, offers more expansive services, including some that Medicare doesn’t typically cover, like long-term care and non-emergency transportation. 

The overlap between the two programs can provide comprehensive coverage for dual-eligible individuals to ensure both broad healthcare services and financial protection against significant healthcare costs.

Coverage and Services

Medicare and Medi-Cal are essential healthcare programs with specific purposes and coverage scopes. Medicare is the federal system providing health services primarily to those over 65 years and to younger individuals with certain disabilities and diseases. It helps cover costs associated with hospital stays, medical care, and prescription drugs.

Medi-Cal, specific to California residents, encompasses a wider array of healthcare services, particularly for low-income individuals and families. It covers many of the same services as Medicare, but it also extends to areas not typically covered by Medicare. These include: 

  • Long-term care in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities beyond the limited coverage provided by Medicare.
  • Dental care and vision services, which Original Medicare does not cover.
  • Non-emergency medical transportation, which is crucial for many Medi-Cal beneficiaries to access medical services.

The overlap between Medicare and Medi-Cal can be particularly beneficial. For instance, Medi-Cal may cover the Medicare Part B premium for eligible low-income seniors or individuals with disabilities. It can also help with copayments and deductibles that Medicare beneficiaries would otherwise pay out of pocket.

Those who qualify for both programs are referred to as ‘dual eligibles’. Medicare typically serves as the primary payer for hospital and medical services in such cases, while Medi-Cal fills coverage gaps such as cost-sharing expenses. The overlap between the two programs ensures a comprehensive healthcare safety net for those who need it most.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary differences between Medicare and Medi-Cal?

Medicare is a federal program providing health coverage to people over 65 years and younger individuals with specific disabilities. Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, is for low-income individuals and families and offers a broader scope of services. That includes costs not typically covered by Medicare, such as long-term care.

Can individuals be eligible for both Medicare and Medi-Cal simultaneously?

Yes, individuals can be “dual eligibles,” meaning they qualify for both Medicare and Medi-Cal. This usually applies to low-income seniors or individuals with disabilities who meet the eligibility criteria of both programs. 

How do income and assets affect eligibility for these programs?

For Medicare, income and assets do not generally affect eligibility, though they can influence the costs of premiums, particularly for Part B and Part D. Medi-Cal, however, has specific income and asset limits that determine eligibility. The federal poverty level sets the basis for these limits, which can vary with household size and age.

Richard Chan

Richard is the Founder of CoverRight and based in New York. He is passionate about empowering consumers to take control of their health and finances. Prior to starting CoverRight, Richard had extensive experience working in financial services with over 8 years' experience in consumer lending and investment banking.

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