When Medicare Pays First, Second or Even Third


When Medicare began in the 1960s, it was the primary payer for all services except those covered by workers compensation. Then in 1980, Congress enacted provisions to shift costs from the Medicare program to private insurers, when possible. This legislation stopped Medicare from making payment if the payment has already been made, or would be expected to be made, by Group Health Plans (GHP) and Workers Compensation (WC) Plans.

Medicare Pays First When:
You have retiree insurance (from either you or your spouse’s former employment)
You’re 65 or older, have group health plan coverage based on your spouse’s current employment, and that employer has less than 20 employees
You’re under 65 and disabled, have group health plan insurance based on your or a family member’s current employer, and that employer has less than 100 employees
You’re also receiving Medicaid benefits
Note: If you have group health care plan coverage that is primary to Medicare (pays first), it will continue to do so until it pays up to the limits of its coverage. Then Medicare becomes primary.

Medicare Pays Second When:
You’re 65 or older, have group health plan coverage based on your spouse’s current employment, and that employer has 20 or more employees
You’re under 65 and disabled, have group health plan insurance based on your or a family member’s current employer, and that employer has 100 or more employees
You have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and you are in the first 30 months your Medicare eligibility. Then Medicare pays first after that.
You’re covered by no-fault or liability insurance for an services related to an accident


Insurance that pays after Medicare is referred to as supplemental insurance. Your retiree coverage may act as supplemental insurance or you may purchase a Medigap policy from a private insurance company.
Medicare works supplemental insurance companies through a process called ‘crossover.’ Crossover is an automatic claim filing service used by Railroad Medicare and Medicare Part B contractors to send claim information to your supplemental insurance after Palmetto GBA has processed a Medicare claim for you. This saves you the time of filing a claim with your supplemental insurer.

In order for you to be in the crossover program, you must enroll with your supplemental insurer. Once you have enrolled, Railroad Medicare will receive, on a regular basis from the supplemental insurer, a list of patients in the crossover program. Once the lists are received from the crossover companies, claim information is electronically compared with the list to determine if there is a match.

If there is a match, the information is transferred to the requesting crossover company. The information forwarded to the requesting company is similar to the information provided on a Medicare Summary Notice (MSN). If your name and Health Insurance Claim (HIC) number appear on the list, your claims processed during that month will be forwarded to your supplemental insurer. You may be enrolled in the crossover program with more than one supplemental insurer. You can only enroll in the crossover program through your supplemental insurer, not through Railroad Medicare. Likewise, if you want to stop the crossover program, you must do this through your supplemental insurer.

If your supplemental insurance does not participate in crossover with Medicare, you will be responsible for ensuring your insurance receives information about claims Medicare has processed. Many providers will file claims to your supplemental insurance after Medicare has processed your claim. If you provider will not file to your supplemental insurance, contact the plan to verify what information they will need to process a claim. Many supplemental insurance plans will ask you to send a copy of your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN). If you need an MSN, you may request one from our Customer Service unit.

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