The Age Requirement for Medicare

Why Turning 65 Has Its Rewards

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Medicare is a valuable resource. It offers millions of Americans access to health care. Though the program is not free to beneficiaries, it can provide a more affordable option to private insurance plans.

If you are a U.S. citizen or legal resident of the country for at least five years, you meet the first requirement for Medicare eligibility. Now you must satisfy the second set of criteria - medical need.

Medicare defines medical need as being older than age 65 or as having a disability.

Why Age Matters

The older we get, the more our bodies change.

  • Our brains literally shrink in size as we get older. Though it may occur at different rates for different people, memory, processing speed, and conceptual reasoning gradually decline.
  • The heart undergoes structural changes that thicken the cardiac muscle and affect how long it takes for each beat to pump blood through our bodies.
  • Not only do we sleep less with each passing decade but our sleep cycle and circadian rhythms change so that we get less quality, restorative sleep.
  • The kidneys filter less effectively with age because of changes to hormones and increasing resistance in the arteries.
  • Light refracts differently in an aging eye so that it becomes more difficult to distinguish fine details at a distance. Contrast sensitivity and peripheral vision may also be impaired.

    These physiologic changes and others can slow us down but can also predispose seniors to medical conditions like heart failure, sleep apnea and other chronic medical conditions. Risk for falls and other injuries also increases with vision changes.

    Chronic Medical Conditions

    In 2010, more than half of all Americans had at least two chronic medical conditions.

     That number increased to more than 63 percent of Americans over the age of 65. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 years old every day until 2029, 20 percent of the population will be senior by 2030. These statistics suggest that the number of chronic medical conditions will continue to rise in the United States.

    People over 65 years old are more likely to have multiple chronic medical problems. This may be the result of genetics, lifestyle choices, or the aging process itself. Certainly, many seniors thrive and more power to them! Statistically, however, this age group puts people into a higher need category for health care.

    The Role of Medicare

    The more medical conditions people have to manage, the more dollars they will spend on health care. In fact, 71 cents for every dollar spent on health care goes towards paying for people who have multiple chronic medical conditions. Medicare understands the burden illness can have on Americans and has tailored its age requirement to reach those with the greatest medical need.

    After meeting citizenship and/or residency requirements, you are eligible for Medicare as soon as you turn 65 years old. That is it. Now all you have to do is apply.


    Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Chronic Conditions Among Medicare Beneficiaries, Chartbook: 2012 Edition. Accessed August 8, 2015.

    Colby SL, Ortman JM. The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. Current Population Reports, United States Census Bureau. Issued May 2014 P25-1141. Accessed June 5, 2015.

    Edwards BA, O'Driscoll DM, Ali A, Jordan AS, Trinder J, Malhotra A. Aging and sleep: physiology and pathophysiology. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2010 Oct;31(5):618-33. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1265902

    Harada CN, Natelson Love MC, Tribel KL. Normal cognitive aging. Clin Geriatr Med. 2013 Nov;29(4):737-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cger.2013.07.002

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