Medicare Glossary

Use this Glossary to reference Medicare terms and definitions

The Medicare Glossary is sorted alphabetically – scroll down or click on a letter below for quick navigation



A process where an accredited organization evaluates health care facilities’ policies, performance and procedures. This ensures integrity and high standards are met.
Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN)
This is a notice given by a doctor, supplier or health care provider to a Medicare beneficiary before providing a service or product for which Medicare may deny payment. If you are not given an ABN before you receive the product or service and Medicare denies payment, you may not have to pay for that product or service.

If you accept an ABN by signing it and Medicare denies payment, you will probably have to pay for the product or service.

ABN’s only apply if the beneficiary is enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A and B

Advance Coverage Decision
If you are covered under a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), this notice will inform you in advance whether or not you are covered for a particular service.

This is not related to an ABN which only applies to Original Medicare.

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a degenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Angina pectoris
Chest pain caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart.
A procedure used to open or treat a blocked artery.
You can appeal if you disagree with a coverage or payment decision made by Medicare, your Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage or your Medicare health plan.
An agreement where Medicare pays your doctor, supplier or provider directly – they have accepted the approved Medicare payment amount and will not bill you more than the deductible and coinsurance.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


A person Medicare or Medicaid health care insurance.
Benefit Period
The benefit period begins the day you are admitted as a hospital or skilled nursing facility inpatient. The period ends when you have not received this care for 60 days in a row.

You must pay the hospital deductible for each benefit period – there is no limit to the number of benefit periods.

Covered items or services under a health insurance plan. Benefits you are entitled to are contained in the insurance plan/policy documents.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
The CMS is a federal agency responsible for administering Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs.
Certified (certification)
Refer to the Medicare-certified-provider definition below in this Medicare glossary.
Health care benefits for dependents of qualifying veterans.
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
A jointly funded program by state and federal government to provide health coverage to low-income children.
A payment request submitted to Medicare or other health insurance providers for covered services.
Clinical Breast Exam
An examination to check for breast cancer. This exam is done by look and feel and is not the same as a mammogram. It is usually performed during your Pap test and pelvic exam.
After you have paid deductibles, you may be required to pay a coinsurance as well. This can be covered under a Medigap plan.
Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility
An outpatient services facility that includes physician services, physical therapy, rehabilitation and social/psychological services.
Coordination of benefits
A sharing-of-costs mechanism to decide who pays first when two or more health insurance plans are responsible for paying the same claim.
An amount you have to pay as part of your share of the cost for medical services or product (like prescription drugs). Copayments are usually set amounts and can also be covered with a Medigap plan.
Coronary stent
An inserted tube to treat coronary heart disease and keep an artery open.
Cost Sharing
An amount you may have to pay as your share of medical services or supply. This can include deductibles, copayments and coinsurance costs.
Coverage Determination (Part D)
The first decision made by your Medicare drug plan about drug benefits;

  • Is a particular drug covered?
  • Have you met all the requirements for obtaining that drug?
  • How much you are required to pay for that drug?

You are entitled to a prompt decision about the drug and you can appeal an unfavorable decision.

You are advised to call or write to your provider in this regard.



Coverage gap (Medicare prescription drug coverage - Part D - Donut Hole)
This gap – also known as the donut hole – is the period of time in which you pay higher cost sharing for prescription drugs until you qualify for catastrophic coverage.

This requirement will be completely phased out in 2020 – at this stage you will pay no more than 25% of the costs of your drugs throughout the entire year. Medicare Glossary.

Creditable coverage (Medigap)
This Medicare Glossary term refers to previous health insurance coverage used to shorten pre-existing condition waiting periods under a Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance) policy.
Creditable prescription drug coverage
If you have prescription drug coverage from an employer or union that is considered “creditable” – you can keep this coverage without paying a penalty if you decide to enroll in Part D later.
Critical access hospital (CAH)
For people living in rural area this is a small facility that provides outpatient services as well as limited inpatient services.
Custodial Care (non-skilled personal care)
This Medicare Glossary term refers to non-skilled personal care, for example, help with eating, bathing, dressing etc.

Medicare does not cover custodial care.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


If you do not have a Medigap policy that covers your deductible – this is the amount you have to pay before your Original Medicare benefits pay. This also applies to prescription drugs.
Deemed Status
A provider or supplier who has been accredited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
These are special projects designed to test improvements for Medicare coverage.
Dental Coverage
Benefits that help pay the cost of dental care.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
The federal agency that oversees and administers programs for protecting the health of all Americans.

Visit the HHS website.


Diagnostic Mammogram
A breast X-ray screening.
DME Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC)
A privately contracted company to ensure greater Medicare efficiency regarding Durable Medical Equipment.
Drug List
Also known as a formulary – a list of prescription drugs covered by a prescription drug plan.
Durable Medical Equipment (DME)
DME is covered by Original Medicare Part B under home health services – this is special equipment prescribed by a doctor for use inside the home, for example, a wheelchair, walker, hospital bed etc.
Durable Power of Attorney
This can be an important document and is helpful if you are unable to make your own decisions – a legal agreement that designates and names someone else to make health care decisions for you.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Your decision to join or leave Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage.
Employer or Union retiree plans
Plans that are offered by current or former employers or employee organizations (or a spouse’s)..
End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)
Permanent kidney failure that requires regular dialyses or a kidney transplant.
Also known as a formulary exception – a drug plan’s decision to cover a drug that is not on its drug list. The insurer can therefor decide to waive their coverage rule.

When applying for an exception, you or the prescriber must get a supporting statement from your doctor.

Excess Charge
The excess charged (if you have Original Medicare) where a doctor or health care provider can legally charge higher than the Medicare approved amount.
Extra Help
For people of lower income who qualify – Medicare will help with costs for prescription drug costs (Part D) like premiums, deductibles and coinsurance.


For the Medicare Glossary definition – refer to Drug List above.


Generic Drug
A drug that is identical to the brand-name drug according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. These drugs usually cost less than the brand-name.
You can file a grievance if you have a complaint. For example, if you are unhappy with your interaction with your plan provider’s staff.

If you have an issue about service coverage, prescription or supply, you must file an appeal – refer to the Medicare Glossary; Appeal.

Group Health Plan
Offered by an employer or employee organization that provides health coverage to employees and their families.
Guaranteed issue rights (Medigap Protections)
In certain situations a health insurance company cannot deny or place conditions on a Medigap policy that you are entitled to. For example, pre-existing health conditions, and not being able to charge you more for a Medigap policy because of past or present health issues.
Guaranteed renewable policy
All Medigap policies issues since 1992 are guaranteed renewable – these policies cannot be terminated unless you make untrue statements to the insurer, commit fraud, or fail to pay your premiums.


Health care provider
A person or organization licensed to provide health care.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Health Coverage
Generally under contract with a health insurance company or a government health program (like Medicare), you have a legal entitlement for payment or reimbursement of your health care costs. You are subject to the contract and conditions contained therein.
Health Insurance Marketplace
The Marketplace is a wide resource where you can obtain all information about your healthcare needs – visit
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
The so called Privacy Rule assures that your health information is adequately protected – while at the same time allowing for health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care.
High-deductible Medigap policy
Because of a lower premium, this policy has a higher deductible that you have to pay before the Medigap policy pays you. Be aware that the deductible amount can change each year.
A person who has been confined to their home due to illness or injury – you can leave your house for short or infrequent periods of time.
Home health agency
An organization providing home health care and services.
Home health care
Your doctor can decide whether you can receive health care services and supplies in your home. Medicare covers this on a limited basis.
Care for people who are terminally ill.
Hospital outpatient setting
Hospital outpatient services that include an emergency department, observation facilities, a pain clinic and surgery center.
Hospital related medical condition
Any condition that was treated during your inpatient hospital stay – it does not have to be the same reason as your initial admittance.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Independent reviewer
Sometimes called an Independent Review Entity – this is an organization that has no connection to your Medicare health plan or prescription drug plan. This an independent organization contracted with Medicare to review an appeal made by you.
Initial coverage limit
Part D – when you have met your annual deductible, you will be liable to pay a copayment or coinsurance for each covered drug until you reach your plan’s out-of-pocket maximum. You will then enter the plan’s coverage gap or donut hole.

The donut hole requirement will be phased out in 2020.


In-network refers to a group of doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers who have agreed to provide members of a certain health insurance plan with discounted prices. Some insurance plans require that you must use in-network providers to be covered.


Inpatient care
Healthcare you receive when admitted to a hospital or skilled nursing facility.
Inpatient hospital care
Treatment you receive in an acute care hospital, mental health care facility, critical access hospital, long-term care hospital, inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Inpatient hospital services
On admission to hospital, these services include bed and board, nursing services, medical or surgery, diagnostic or therapeutic services.
Inpatient prospective payment system (IPPS)
Where hospitals have contracted with Medicare to provide acute inpatient care and accept a predetermined rate as full payment.
Inpatient rehabilitation facility
A hospital facility that provides intensive rehabilitation services to inpatients.

(Medicare Glossary from LifeSmart)


Large group health plan
Refers to a group health plan that has at least 100 employees.
Lifetime reserve days
Applicable to Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) – when you are hospitalized for more than 90 days, these are additional days Medicare will pay for. You have a total of 60 reserve days that can be used during your lifetime. Medicare covers all reserve day costs except for a coinsurance.
Limiting charge
For Original Medicare this is the highest amount you can be charged for a covered doctor service and other health care suppliers who do not accept assignment (see above). The limiting charge is 15% over the Medicare approved amount. The limiting charge does not apply to equipment or supplies.
Living Will
A living will is a written legal document – when you cannot speak for yourself this serves as a directive for treatments you do, and do not want. You can specify whether you do or do not want life-support treatment. This directive usually comes into effect when you are unconscious.
Long-term care
These are services provided to you when you are unable to perform basic daily living activities like dressing and bathing. These services can be provided at home, in the community, in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Long-term care assistance can be provided to people of any age.

Medicare does not pay for long-term care. You can purchase long-term insurance from private insurance companies.

Long-term care hospital
Acute care hospitals that provide treatment for patients who stay, on average, longer than 25 days – most patients are transferred from a critical care or intensive care unit.

Services provided include;

  • rehabilitation
  • therapy
  • respiratory
  • head trauma treatment
  • pain management
Long-term care Ombudsman
An independent advocate who works to resolve problems between residents and nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

An ombudsman is usually a good resource to find information about your rights and protections and local health agencies.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


A federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with low income and resources. See

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Medicaid certified provider
Certified providers have passed an inspection conducted by a state government agency and are approved by Medicare.
Medicaid office
Where people with lower incomes and resources can get information and assistance with Medicaid applications.
Medical underwriting
An insurance company adopts an underwriting process that enables them to decide, based on your medical history, whether to accept your application for insurance. They access the risk and decide whether to add a waiting period for pre-existing conditions (if allowed by your state), and how much you will have to pay for that insurance.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).
Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC)
A company that processes claims for Medicare.
Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)
Refer to Understanding Part C

A Part C plan is a Medicare approved insurance plan from private insurance carriers. Part C provides you with all the benefits of Original Medicare Part A and Part B. Part C includes HMO’s PPO’s etc.

Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage (Part D) and other benefits.

Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plan (MA-PD)
A Medicare Advantage plan that offers Parts A, B, and D (prescription drugs) in one plan.
Medicare Approved amount
In Original Medicare, when a doctor or supplier accepts assignment (see Assignment above), this is the amount that can be paid.
Medicare approved supplier
A company, person, and agency that’s been certified by Medicare to give you medical supplies and services.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Medicare certified provider
A Medicare approved health care provider – providers are approved or certified by Medicare if they have met and passed state government agency inspection. Medicare only covers care by certified providers.
Medicare Cost Plan
If you receive services outside of the plan’s network without a referral, Medicare covered services will still be paid under Original Medicare. The Cost Plan pays for emergency or urgently needed services.

These types of plans are available in some areas.

Medicare Health Maintenance Organization Plan (HMO)
Available in a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) in some areas – with most HMO’s, you can only go to doctors or hospitals specified on the plan’s list (except in an emergency).

Most HMO’s require you to get a referral from your primary care doctor.

Medicare health plan
A plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits – additional benefits like prescription drug coverage (Part D) can also be offered.
Medicare Medical Savings Account Plan (MSA)
A MSA plan combines a high deductible Part C (Medicare Advantage plan) and a bank account. Money is deposited from Medicare into the account. You are entitled to use the money to pay for your health care costs, however, only Medicare covered expenses count towards your deductible. The amount deposited is usually less than your deductible amount so you generally will have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage begins.
Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)
Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing care facilities, hospice care and some home health care.
Medicare Part B (medical insurance)
Part B covers certain doctor’s services, preventive services, medical supplies and outpatient care.
Medicare plan
Any plan other than Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) where you can get your Medicare health or prescription drug coverage.
Medicare Preferred Provider Organization Plan (PPO)
This could be offered under a Medicare Advantage type plan (Part C) – you can use out-of-network doctor’s and hospitals. These plans typically cost more.
Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D)
This coverage is offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. Plan types vary and it is important to study and become familiar with plan details.
Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D)
Part D adds prescription drug coverage to Original Medicare. These plans are offered by private companies approved by Medicare.
Medicare Private Fee-For-Service Plan (PFFS)
A type of Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) – you can visit any doctor or hospital as if you had Original Medicare if they agree to treat you. The plan determines how much they will pay for these services and what your sharing costs will be. A PFFS plan is however very different to Original Medicare and you must ensure that you carefully follow the plan’s rules.

Costs may be more or less than in Original Medicare.


Medicare Savings Program
This is a Medicaid program for people with limited income and resources – the program helps pay for some or all of their Medicaid costs.
Medicare SELECT
A type of Medigap (supplement) policy – you may be required to use in-network hospitals and doctors to receive benefits.
Medicare Special Needs Plan
This plan provides more focused and specialized health care for specific groups of people, for example, those who have both Medicare and Medicaid, who have certain chronic illnesses and who live in a nursing home.

It is a Medicare Advantage (Part C) type of plan,

Medicare Summary Notice (MSN)
You will receive this notice after your doctor, supplier or other health care provider files a claim for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) services. It will explain all the billing details and the amount you are liable for.
Medigap basic benefits
Benefits that all Medigap policies must cover, including Part A and Part B coinsurance amounts, blood, and additional hospital benefits not covered by Original Medicare.
Medigap Open Enrollment Period
This is a one-time-only, 6-month enrollment period when federal law allows you to purchase any Medigap policy that’s sold in your state.

The enrollment period starts in the first month that you are covered under Part B and you are 65 years old or older.

During this enrollment period you cannot be denied a Medigap plan or be charged more due to past or present health conditions.

Enrollment right can vary state-by-state.

Medigap policy
These are Medicare Supplement insurance policies sold by private insurance companies to pay for coverage that Original Medicare does not – see Medigap

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Multi-employer plan
A group health plan that is sponsored by 2 or more employers.


The facilities, providers, and suppliers your health insurer or plan has contracted with to provide health care services.

When deciding and choosing your plan, it is important to consider the network.

Network pharmacies
Network pharmacies who have agreed to provide discounted prices to members of certain Medicare plans. With some Medicare plans, your prescriptions will only be covered if you get them filled at network pharmacies.
Non-preferred pharmacy
If a pharmacy is part of a Medicare plan but considered non-preferred, you may pay higher out-of-pocket costs for your prescription drugs.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Occupational therapy
Treatment that helps you return to normal activity after an illness.
Optional supplement benefits
This is a benefit that Medicare does not cover, but a Medicare health plan may choose to offer – you may choose to purchase these services and will pay for them directly; usually in the form of premium, copayment and/or coinsurance.
Original Medicare
Original Medicare consists of two parts;

  • Part A – hospital insurance
  • Part B – medical insurance

It is a fee-for-service health plan. Refer to Understanding Your Medicare Choices.

Applies to a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) – out-of-network benefits may cost you more than in-network provider services.
Out-of-pocket costs
Costs that are not covered by Medicare or other health insurance – you will be liable to pay these costs.
Outpatient hospital care
Medical or surgery care you receive when your doctor has not admitted you to hospital as an inpatient. Note: this care may still be considered outpatient even if you spend the night at the hospital.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Pap test
A test to check for cancer of the cervix.
Patient lifts
A medical device used to lift you from a bed or wheelchair.
Pelvic exam
An exam to check if female organs are normal.
If you do not join a Medicare drug plan (Part D) or join Part B when you are first eligible, a penalty amount will be added to your monthly premium. You will pay this higher amount as long as you have Medicare although there are some exceptions.
Pharmacy network
Pharmacies that have agreed to provide members of certain Medicare plans with services and supplies at a discounted price.

With some Medicare plans, prescriptions will only be covered if they are filled at network pharmacies.

Physical therapy
Includes treatments like massage, exercise, heat and light treatments.
A foot doctor.
For an additional cost, this Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) option allows you to use doctors and hospitals outside of the plan.
Power of Attorney
A medical Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone that you trust to make medical care decisions on your behalf.

Like a Living Will, it may be an important document to consider.

Pre-existing condition
A health problem you had before the date that new health coverage starts.
Preferred pharmacy
You will pay lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs using a pharmacy that is part of a Medicare drug plan’s network.
The premium is the periodic payment – usually monthly – to pay for health services from Medicare or private insurance companies.
Preventive Services
Health care to prevent or detect illness at an early stage, for example, mammograms, flu shots etc.
Primary care doctor
The doctor you see first as your primary physician. In many Part C plans, you must see your primary care doctor before you see any other health care provider and get a referral.
Prior authorization
Approval you must obtain from a Medicare drug plan before you have the prescription filled – your drug plan may require prior authorization for certain drugs.
Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
A special type of health plan determined by an interdisciplinary team to provide care and services covered by Medicare and Medicaid based on your needs. PACE serves frail older adults who need nursing home services but are capable of living in the community.

PACE combines medical, social, and long-term care services and prescription drug coverage.

Protective sensations
Also known as loss of protective sensations – for example, nerve damage caused by diabetes can cause loss of feeling in the foot or leg. This condition may result in skin loss, ulcers and blisters.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals Program (QDWI)
For people who have limited income and resources, this is a state program that helps pay Part A (Original Medicare) premiums.
Qualified Individual Program (QI)
A state program for people who have limited resources and income – this helps pay Part B premiums.
Qualified Medicare Beneficiary Program (QMB)
This state program helps individuals pay their Part A and Part B (Original Medicare) premiums if they have low income and resources. QMB may also help with deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.


With many HMO’s you will need a written order from your primary care doctor to see a specialist or get certain medical services. If you do not get this referral prior to seeing a specialist or obtaining certain medical services, the plan might not pay for the services.
Rehabilitation services
If you have been sick, hurt or disabled, these services will help you recover from those injuries.

Services could include;

  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation
  • Speech and language pathology

Services can be conducted in an inpatient and/or outpatient setting.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Religious nonmedical health care institution
A facility that provides non-medical health care items and services to people who need hospital or skilled nursing facility care, but for whom that care would be inconsistent with their religious beliefs.
Respite care
If you have a family member or friend who is your caregiver, temporary respite care can give them some rest  – can be obtained in a nursing home, inpatient facility, hospice or hospital.
Rural health clinic
Where there is a shortage of health care services in rural areas, a federally qualified health center can provide those services.


Screening mammogram
A medical procedure to check for breast cancer.
Secondary payer
The policy, plan or program that pays second on a medical claim – this is dependent on the situation.
Service area
If a health insurance plan limits membership based on an area where people live, this is defined by the geographic service area. If your plan is limited geographically, you might be disenrolled if you move out of that area.
Skilled nursing care
Only a doctor or registered nurse can give certain kinds of care, for example, intravenous injections.
Skilled nursing facility care
Skilled nursing care and rehabilitation services provided on a continuous, daily basis, in a skilled nursing facility (SNF).
Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary Program (SLMB)
For individuals who have Part A (Original Medicare) and have low income and resources, this program will help pay Part B premiums.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)

Speech-language therapy (speech-language pathology services)
Therapeutic speech treatments resulting from illness.
State Health Insurance Assistance Program
A federal funded government program to give free health insurance counseling to Medicare recipients.
State Insurance Department
A state regulatory agency – regulates insurance, provides information about Medigap policies and other private health insurance.
State Medical Assistance office ( for Medicaid)
A state regulatory authority that provides information about, and assists with Medicaid applications.
State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP)
A state program that assists with help for paying drug coverage based on financial need, age and medical condition.
State Survey Agency
This agency inspects health care facilities and investigates complaints to ensure that health and safety standards are met for both Medicare and Medicaid.
Step Therapy
Some Medicare prescription drug plans require you to try similar, lower cost drugs for treatment, before the plan will cover the actual prescribed drug.
When one or more bones of your spine move out of position.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI is a monthly benefit paid by Social Security to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. SSI benefits are not the same as Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

(Medicare Glossary by LifeSmart)


A practitioner who provides medical and other health services to a patient via electronic means; phone, computer or television.
Cost pricing of drugs in different groups or tiers. Generally, a lower group drug should cost less.
A health care program for active-duty and retired uniformed services members and their families.
Tricare For Life (TFL)
Expanded medical coverage for age 65 or older Medicare-eligible uniformed services retirees. This service is also available to their eligible family members, certain former spouses, and survivors.
A communication device (teletypewriter) used by people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have severe speech impairment.


Urgently needed care
Non life threatening care that you receive outside of your Medicare health plan’s service area for a sudden illness or injury. As it is not safe to wait until you return home before you receive this care, your health plan must pay for this.


Workers' compensation
An insurance plan that employers must have to cover employees who get sick or injured on the job.
Medicare Glossary