A quarter is a 3-month period, and 1 year has 4 quarters in it. When a person has worked and paid taxes for 40 quarters during their life, they may be entitled to premium-free Medicare Part A.

Part A is just one part of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for adults ages 65 years and over as well as younger adults with qualifying disabilities.

Medicare Part A is free for many adults based on how many qualifying quarters they have worked in their lifetime.

This article will look at what it means to have worked 40 quarters, how this may affect premiums, and other eligibility and qualification details.

Glossary of Medicare terms

We may use a few terms in this piece that can be helpful to understand when selecting the best insurance plan:

  • Deductible: This is an annual amount that a person must spend out of pocket within a certain time period before an insurer starts to fund their treatments.
  • Coinsurance: This is a percentage of a treatment cost that a person will need to self-fund. For Medicare Part B, this comes to 20%.
  • Copayment: This is a fixed dollar amount that an insured person pays when receiving certain treatments. For Medicare, this usually applies to prescription drugs.
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Medicare bases the cost of Part A premiums on the number of quarters in which a person worked and paid Medicare taxes before receiving Medicare.

Qualifying quarters worked are also called credits. This means for each quarter that a person worked, they earned a credit. To qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A, an individual must have worked 40 quarters in their lifetime.

How long is 40 quarters?

According to Medicare, 40 quarters of work is generally equal to at least 10 years. This means at least 10 years of working and paying Medicare taxes.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) funds Medicare. Taxes that automatically get deducted from an individual’s paycheck include Medicare taxes.

Medicare tax funds Medicare Part A insurance when a person becomes eligible at age 65 years or sooner due to a disability.

Currently, the Medicare tax rate is 2.9%. Employers pay 1.45%, and employees pay the remaining 1.45% in the form of a payroll deduction.

Learn more about Medicare Part A.

To calculate a person’s eligibility for premium-free Medicare Part A insurance, Medicare counts the number of employment quarters the individual worked.

A quarter of coverage is a 3-month calendar period during which a person worked in a job and paid Medicare taxes. Every quarter of coverage earned counts as 1 credit toward qualifying for free Medicare Part A.

During a quarter of coverage, an employee pays Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, which combine withheld taxes for Medicare and Social Security. On a paycheck, Medicare withholding tax appears as “Fed Med/EE.”

Each year has 4 quarters. So roughly 40 quarters equals 10 years of work.

The 40-quarters rule applies to premium-free Medicare Part A only. Other parts of Medicare, including Medicare Part B, involve a monthly premium regardless of how long a person has worked in their lifetime.

Working quarters affect on monthly premiums

Although Medicare requires 40 credits earned for premium-free Part A coverage, people who earned fewer credits may still obtain Medicare Part A as long as they pay a monthly premium.

The monthly cost for Medicare Part A may change. However, in 2024, people who paid Medicare taxes and earned between 30 and 39 quarters pay a monthly Part A premium of $278. Individuals who paid Medicare taxes for fewer than 30 quarters pay $505 a month.

To qualify for premium-free Medicare, an individual must also earn a certain amount during the quarters worked.

Medicare divides yearly earnings into quarters to determine how many credits a person has earned.

The earnings required may change from year to year. In 2024, individuals must earn $1,730 per quarter ($6,920 in a year) to be eligible for premium-free Medicare.

Some people may earn enough in 1 quarter to qualify for all 4 credits. In other cases, it might take someone the entire year to make enough to be eligible for all 4 credits earned.

Regardless of a person’s income amount, they cannot earn more than 4 credits in 1 year.

Earning a higher amount does not affect the amount of Medicare benefits a person receives, either. For instance, a person does not get additional Medicare Part A benefits or discounts because they earned more than the minimum 40 quarters.

Additionally, even when a person qualifies for premium-free Medicare Part A, they must pay a deductible for certain services.

Read more about the cost of Medicare Part A.

The specific number of quarters of coverage depends on whether an individual is applying for Part A coverage based on a disability or age.

Adults younger than 65 years old may also qualify for free Medicare Part A if they have:

When in receipt of Social Security disability benefits, individuals must have worked a certain number of quarters, depending on their age, to be entitled to premium-free Medicare Part A:

AgeWorking quarters
before 24 years 6 work credits earned within the 3-year period before the start of disability
24 to 31 years must have worked half the time between age 21 years and when a disability was acquired — for example, if a person acquires a disability at 27 years old, they must have earned 12 work credits within the past 6 years
31 years and overmust have earned at least 20 work credits in 10 years before they acquired a disability

A married person who has not worked at all or has not worked enough to earn credits toward free Medicare might gain premium-free Part A through their spouse’s employment.

To qualify based on a spouse’s employment, an individual must be at least 65 years old, and their spouse must be 62 years old or over and have earned enough Medicare credits to qualify for free Medicare Part A for themselves.

Options are available to obtain Medicare Part A if a person did not earn enough working quarters.

Medicare savings programs are federally funded assistance programs that each state administers to help with the costs associated with Medicare.

There are four different Medicare savings programs. Most of the programs help pay for Medicare Part B premiums.

The Qualified Medicare Beneficiary Program helps pay for premiums and other costs of Part A. Income limits apply to qualify for the assistance programs.

Medicare resources

For more resources to help guide you through the complex world of medical insurance, visit our Medicare hub.

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For premium-free Medicare Part A, an individual must have worked 40 quarters. This is about 10 years of working and paying Medicare taxes.

A quarter of coverage refers to a 3-month period of work that includes Medicare taxes. Also, in 2024, a person must earn $1,730 per quarter to qualify.

People who do not have 40 quarters of qualifying employment may buy Medicare Part A.

A younger adult with a disability would not need to have earned the full 40 quarters, but the required number of credits will vary depending on age.

In some cases, an individual who does not qualify alone may qualify based on the work history of a spouse.