Got questions about the Affordable Care Act? WHYY/NewsWorks Health and Science Desk provides "The Short Answer."

Today's Question

Enrollment starts next week (Oct. 1) for the new health insurance marketplaces. What does that mean for seniors with Medicare?

The Short Answer

Well, the very short answer is ... nothing.

Medicare is a federally run insurance program for seniors over 65 and people with disabilities. The important thing to remember, is that Medicare is not a part of the health insurance exchanges we've been hearing so much about. 

However, there is another open enrollment period specifically for Medicare that runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

That's confusing

You may be not alone in feeling that. The office that helps administer Medicare in the Philadelphia area, for instance, says it's fielding more questions than usual as the launch date for the health insurance marketplaces nears. The open enrollment period for Medicare happens annually.

Remember: Medicare and Obamacare are on separate tracks. The opening of the new insurance marketplaces on Oct. 1 is a non-event for the roughly 50 million Americans who get coverage through Medicare.

Does Obamacare affect seniors at all?

On some fronts, yes, it does. Preventive benefits under Medicare — like cancer screenings and wellness visits — are being expanded under of the Affordable Care Act. Higher-income seniors are paying more for prescription drug coverage, though the majority of Medicare beneficiaries are paying less.

The law does cut some Medicare funding, about $700 billion over ten years. Those cuts are to payments from Medicare to healthcare providers, which experts say may impact the system down the road.

One more time

Shopping for health plans on the new insurance marketplaces does not apply to people over 65. Think of it as HealthCare.gov vs. Medicare.gov. The new marketplaces at Healthcare.gov are for people seeking coverage. If you have Medicare, you have coverage, and the open enrollment period that starts Oct. 15 is the normal window for considering your options.

The 2010 health law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. How will it affect you, your wallet and your health? Email your questions to  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or tweet us @newsworksWHYY.