Medicare Part B, or
supplementary medical insurance, helps cover the cost of doctor
visits and outpatient hospital care.
Those who sign up for Medicare Part B pay a monthly premium that
covers roughly 25 percent of Part B's program costs, with the
government providing the rest of the funding through federal budget
spending. The premium was set at $58.70 a month for 2003 and is
usually taken out of beneficiaries' Social Security checks.
Patients pay the first $100 of services and supplies
covered under Part B. After that deductible is paid, Medicare
covers part of approved medical costs. Part B pays 80 percent
of the cost of "medically necessary" doctor appointments,
with beneficiaries paying the other 20 percent. It does not cover
Medicare also helps pay for outpatient hospital
services -- such as X-rays, emergency room visits, getting stitches
and other services that do not keep patients in the hospital longer
than 24 hours.
Some preventative care -- including colorectal
cancer screening, mammograms, prostate cancer screening and flu
shots -- is covered under Medicare. For the covered preventative
services, Medicare usually either picks up 80 percent of the costs
or pays the full amount.
Medicare helps pay for a very limited selection
of prescription drugs, including some oral cancer drugs, and drugs
administered by doctors. When these drugs are covered, beneficiaries
are responsible for 20 percent of the Medicare-approved drug cost.
The lack of
prescription drug coverage is a common cause of complaints among
Medicare beneficiaries. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to
debate whether to add this benefit to Medicare and how best to
structure any possible prescription drug coverage.
-- By Karyn Schwartz, Online NewsHour