Medicare is a federal insurance program, managed at the state level, which provides medical care for older people who are not able to afford traditional health insurance. Because it is managed at the state level, requirements for qualifying for Medicare will vary somewhat from one location to another, but the age requirements are standard throughout the United States.
In order to qualify for Medicare coverage, you must be at least 65 years old. This requirement is sometimes confusing, and some people believe that they are required to take Medicare coverage when they reach age 65. The fact is, you are not required to have Medicare at any age, and the 65 year old requirement is simply a minimum age at which you can apply for Medicare.
There is another program, called Medicaid, for people who cannot afford regular healthcare but are not old enough for Medicare, This form of health coverage is generally reserved for those who have low incomes or health conditions which may them uninsurable through traditional methods. Like Medicare, there is not a legal requirement stating that you must have the coverage if you qualify, although the program is designed for people who may not have any other options available.
Not everyone who turns 65 is eligible for Medicare. If you have group or individual health insurance, or if you have some sort of personal health coverage such as a health savings account, Medicare may not be an option for you until you have exhausted the benefits of your other plan. Similarly, minimum income and asset regulations will need to be met, indicating that you are not able to purchase a health coverage plan on your own.
Medicare is a range of health insurance plans, not a single plan. In all, there a total of 16 health plans available, including Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D, and variations of those primary plans. Some plans include things such as prescription coverage, while others provide for long term and extended critical care benefits. Each applicant will have to choose the plans they need, and may still have to pay for some supplemental coverage to flesh out their total health care package.