Medicaid Explained: A Comprehensive Guide for BeginnersSkip to content

Everything You Need to Know About Medicaid

Published: Dec 30, 2022. Last Updated: Jan 8, 2023.

Medicaid is a state-run program funded by the federal government and administered at the state level. It is a program that provides access to affordable health care for millions of Americans. Whether you are seeking coverage for yourself or for a loved one, understanding how Medicaid works and how to apply for it is essential.

If you are in need of healthcare coverage or just want to learn more about Medicaid, this guide can definitely help. In this comprehensive guide, we will break down the eligibility requirements, the services covered by Medicaid, and the application process to help you navigate this important program.

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health insurance to low-income individuals and families. It was created in 1965 as part of the Social Security Amendments and is administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It covers a wide range of medical services, including hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription drugs, and preventative care. It also provides coverage for certain populations, such as low-income children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people with disabilities. Medicaid eligibility and benefits vary by state, as states have the option to offer additional benefits beyond the federal minimum requirements.

Medicaid is funded by both the federal government and the states, with the federal government paying a percentage of the cost and the states paying the remainder. The federal government sets guidelines for Medicaid eligibility and benefits, but states have the flexibility to design their own Medicaid programs within those guidelines.

Eligibility Requirements for Medicaid

When it comes to accessing affordable health care, Medicaid can be a vital resource for many individuals and families. But before you can benefit from the services Medicaid offers, you need to first determine if you are eligible for the program. Check these requirements out and see if you or a family member might qualify:


One of the primary criteria for Medicaid eligibility is income. Medicaid is a means-tested program, meaning that it is designed to assist individuals and families with low incomes. Each state sets its own income guidelines for Medicaid eligibility, so the specific requirements can vary depending on where you live.

Generally, Medicaid is available to individuals and families with incomes that are below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL).[1] For 2021, the FPL for a family of four is $26,500, so 138% of that amount would be $36,630. However, some states have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover individuals and families with higher incomes, so it's important to check with your state's Medicaid agency to determine the specific income guidelines that apply to you.


In addition to income, age is another factor that can affect your eligibility for Medicaid. Children under the age of 19 are generally eligible for Medicaid if their family's income falls below the income guidelines mentioned above. Adults aged 19 to 65 may also be eligible for Medicaid if they meet the income requirements and have a disability, are pregnant, or are the primary caregiver for a child under the age of 19.

For seniors aged 65 and over, Medicaid can help cover the costs of long-term care, including nursing home care and in-home health services. Medicaid eligibility for seniors is generally based on income and asset levels, as well as the type of care they need.


Medicaid can also be an important resource for individuals with disabilities who need ongoing medical care and support. To be eligible for Medicaid based on a disability, you must have a qualifying disability as determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This can include physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, or certain chronic medical conditions. Some states have Medicaid programs specifically for individuals with disabilities, which may have different eligibility requirements.

Other Factors

There are as few other eligibility factors that can affect your ability to enroll in Medicaid. For example, if you are pregnant, you may be eligible for Medicaid based on your income, even if you don't meet the income guidelines for other adults. Medicaid can help cover the costs of prenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care for pregnant women.

If you are a parent or the primary caregiver for a child under the age of 19, you may also be eligible for Medicaid based on your income. Medicaid can help cover the costs of medical care for children, including doctor's visits, immunizations, and prescription drugs.

It's important to note that Medicaid eligibility can be complex, and there may be other factors that can affect your ability to enroll. If you are unsure if you are eligible for Medicaid, it's a good idea to contact your state's Medicaid agency or a local enrollment assistance organization for more information. With the right resources and guidance, you can find out if Medicaid is an option for you and your family, and take the first steps towards accessing affordable health care.

Services Covered by Medicaid

Medicaid is a comprehensive health insurance program that covers a wide range of services, including:

Medical Care

Medical care coverage through Medicaid includes the following:

  • Doctor's visits: It is an essential component of maintaining good health and getting the medical care you need. It covers visits to a wide range of medical providers, including primary care doctors, specialists, and other healthcare professionals. This includes everything from routine check-ups to more specialized care, such as treatment for chronic conditions.
  • Hospital stays: This can provide a much-needed safety net for those who may not have the financial resources to pay for a hospital stay out of pocket. Medicaid covers inpatient and outpatient care, as well as services such as laboratory tests, x-rays, and other diagnostic tests.
  • Prescription drugs: This includes both brand-name and generic drugs, and beneficiaries can fill their prescriptions at any pharmacy that accepts Medicaid.

Long-Term Care

In addition to medical care, Medicaid also provides coverage for long-term care services. This includes nursing home care, home health care, and other types of assisted living.

Nursing home care is a type of long-term care provided in a facility that is specifically designed to provide round-the-clock medical care and supervision for those who are unable to live independently. Medicaid covers nursing home care for those who are eligible, and it can be a lifesaver for those who may not have the financial resources to pay for this type of care out of pocket.

Home health care is another type of long-term care that is covered by Medicaid. This includes medical services that are provided in the beneficiary's home, such as skilled nursing care, physical therapy, and other types of medical treatment. Home health care can be a great option for those who are unable to leave their homes to receive medical care, or for those who prefer to receive care in the comfort of their own home.

Mental Health Services

Mental health is a crucial component of overall health and well-being, and Medicaid provides coverage for a wide range of mental health services. The services covered vary by state, but they can include:

  • Therapy: This includes counseling and psychotherapy services, which can be provided in individual, family, or group settings. It can be an effective way to address a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
  • Medication management: This includes monitoring the use of medications prescribed for mental health conditions and making any necessary adjustments.
  • Substance abuse treatment: This can include detoxification and other forms of treatment for those with substance use disorders.

Dental Care

Another important component of health care that is covered by Medicaid is dental care. This includes preventive care, such as cleanings and check-ups, as well as more specialized care, such as fillings and extractions. Medicaid also covers certain dental procedures, such as root canals and braces, for those who are eligible.

Dental care is essential for maintaining good oral health, and it can prevent more serious issues from developing in the future. Medicaid covers a wide range of dental services, so beneficiaries can get the care they need to keep their teeth and gums healthy.

Other Services

In addition to the services mentioned above, Medicaid also provides coverage for a number of other important services which include:

  • Transportation to medical appointments: This includes coverage for transportation to and from medical appointments, such as doctor visits or therapy sessions.
  • Hearing aids: Some states provide coverage for hearing aids and related services.
  • Medical equipment: This includes wheelchairs, walkers, and other types of medical equipment that may be necessary for those with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
  • Personal care services: This includes things like help with bathing, dressing, and other daily activities that may be difficult for some individuals due to age or disability. Personal care services can help beneficiaries maintain their independence and continue living in their own homes.

Applying for Medicaid

Now that you have a better understanding of what Medicaid is and who is eligible and what services are covered, it is important to understand the process for applying. Each state has its own requirements and application process, so you should contact your local Medicaid office for more information on how to apply. Additionally, there are a number of organizations that offer assistance with the Medicaid application process - they can provide valuable guidance and help ensure that your application is filled out correctly.

To apply online, you can visit the website and follow the prompts to complete the application. This is typically the easiest and quickest way to apply, as you can do it from the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. You'll need to provide information about your household, income, and resources, as well as any other relevant information.

If you prefer to apply by phone, you can call your state's Medicaid office or the national Medicaid hotline at 1-800-686-1516. You'll be connected with a representative who can help you complete the application over the phone.

Finally, you can also apply in person by visiting your local Medicaid office. This is a good option if you prefer to have help completing the application or have questions about the process. You'll need to bring the required documentation with you to the office, which we'll talk about next. Speaking of documentation, there are certain documents you'll need to provide when applying for Medicaid. This may include:[2]

  • proof of income such as pay stubs or tax returns
  • proof of US citizenship or lawful residence such as passport, green card, employment authorization card
  • proof of residence, such as a utility bill or lease agreement
  • proof of any disabilities or other special circumstances

It's important to have these documents ready when you apply to make the process as smooth as possible. Once you've completed the application and submitted all the required documentation, it's time for the review process to begin. This is when your application is reviewed to determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid. The review process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the complexity of your case and the workload of the Medicaid office. You'll be notified by mail or phone once a decision has been made.

3 Common Misconceptions About Medicaid

Despite the fact that Medicaid is an essential program for millions of Americans, there are still a lot of misconceptions about it. Here are 3 of the most common ones:

Myth 1: Medicaid Is only For Low-Income Individuals

Many people believe that Medicaid is only for those who are struggling financially and cannot afford private health insurance. While it is true that Medicaid is often a lifeline for low-income individuals, it is also available to those who have higher incomes in certain situations. For example, Medicaid may be available to seniors who are eligible for Medicare but cannot afford the premiums, or to individuals who are pregnant or have disabilities that prevent them from working.

Myth 2: Medicaid only Covers Medical Expenses

Another common misconception about Medicaid is that it only covers medical expenses such as doctor's visits and hospital stays. While it is true that Medicaid does cover these types of medical expenses, it also provides coverage for a wide range of other services. These can include mental health care, dental care, long-term care (such as nursing home care or home health care), and even transportation to medical appointments.

Myth 3: Medicaid Is a Federal Program

Many people believe that Medicaid is a federal program administered by the federal government. In fact, Medicaid is actually a joint federal and state program, with each state responsible for administering its own Medicaid program and setting its own eligibility guidelines. This means that Medicaid coverage and benefits can vary from state to state, with some states offering more generous coverage than others.

It is important to understand the truth behind these common misconceptions about Medicaid in order to fully appreciate the scope and importance of this important program. Whether you are eligible for Medicaid or not, it is always worth learning more about the program and how it can help you and your loved ones access affordable health care. So, it is always better to seek accurate information about Medicaid to make the most of it.



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About the Author

Ericka Nicolas

Writer & Researcher

Elder Guide LLC

Ericka Nicolas began her career in the banking industry where she learned the importance of being detail-oriented and well-organized, both of which she applies to her current work as a writer and proofreader. With her vast experience in writing, Ericka is able to produce well-researched and engaging content that appeals to Elderguide's target audience. She was able to provide readers with valuable insights on a variety of topics and ensures that all the information she provides is accurate and up-to-date. She takes the time to carefully study each topic given to her, which allows her to produce truly informative articles. Ericka's passion for writing and her dedication to producing quality content gave way to her goal of helping our readers navigate the complex world of senior living and make informed decisions about their future. Aside from her work at Elderguide, Ericka enjoys spending time with her newly-married husband and their dog, Yari. She loves cooking, traveling, and exploring new restaurants in her spare time.