Medicare Wages: Definition, How They're Taxed, Limits and Rates

What Are Medicare Wages?

Medicare wages are employee earnings that are subject to a U.S. payroll tax known as the Medicare tax. Similar to the other U.S. payroll tax, Social Security, the Medicare tax is used to fund the government's Medicare program, which provides subsidized healthcare and hospital insurance benefits to people ages 65 and older and to people with disabilities.

Medicare and Social Security taxes are levied on both employees and employers under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).

Key Takeaways

  • Medicare is funded by a payroll tax of 1.45% on the first $200,000 of an employee's wages. Employees whose wages exceed $200,000 are also subject to a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax on top of the 1.45%.
  • Employers also pay a 1.45% tax on their employee's wages. They do not pay the additional tax.
  • The Medicare tax for self-employed individuals is 2.9% to cover both the employee's and employer's portions.
  • The 2020 CARES Act expanded Medicare's ability to cover the treatment and services of those affected by COVID-19.
  • Employees should also consider having money deducted from their wages to fund their retirement through an employer-sponsored plan or IRA.

Understanding Medicare Wages

There is no limit on Medicare wages. The employee's share of the Medicare tax is a percentage withheld from their paycheck. In 2022 and 2023, the Medicare tax is 1.45% on an individual's wages. Employers also pay 1.45%.

There is also a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax that only the employee filing an individual tax return pays for wages that exceed $200,000. The additional tax also applies to those whose wages exceed $250,000 if they are married and file a joint return and exceed $125,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return.

For 2022 and 2023, the rate for the Social Security tax is 6.2% for the employee and 6.2% for the employer, or 12.4% total. The tax applies to the first $147,000 of income in 2022, and up to $160,200 in 2023. The Social Security tax rate is assessed on all types of income that an employee earns, including salaries, wages, and bonuses.

Unlike the Social Security tax, there is no income limit on applications of the Medicare tax.

Medicare Tax for the Self-Employed

Under the Self-Employed Contributions Act (SECA), the self-employed are also required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. In 2022 and 2023, the Medicare tax on a self-employed individual’s income is 2.9%, while the Social Security tax rate is 12.4%. The maximum Social Security tax that a self-employed person would pay is $18,228 in 2022 and $19,864.80 in 2023.

Self-employed individuals must pay double the Medicare and Social Security taxes that traditional employees pay because employers typically pay half of these taxes. But they are allowed to deduct half of their Medicare and Social Security taxes from their income taxes.

The CARES Act of 2020

On March 27, 2020, former President Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package, called the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, into law. It expands Medicare's ability to cover treatment and services for those affected by COVID-19. The CARES Act also:

  • Increases flexibility for Medicare to cover telehealth services.
  • Authorizes Medicare certification for home health services by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse specialists.
  • Increases Medicare payments for COVID-19–related hospital stays and durable medical equipment.

For Medicaid, the CARES Act clarifies that non-expansion states can use the Medicaid program to cover COVID-19-related services for uninsured adults who would have qualified for Medicaid if the state had chosen to expand. Other populations with limited Medicaid coverage are also eligible for coverage under this state option.

Special Considerations

In addition to noting particular withdrawals for Medicare and Social Security from each paycheck, an employee should consider options for saving for retirement. In many cases, you can elect to have a portion deducted from your paycheck for this purpose.

Many employers offer certain types of retirement plans, depending on the length of time an employee has been with an organization (known as vesting) and the type of organization (company, nonprofit, or government agency).

Many companies, for example, offer a 401(k) plan. A 401(k) is a qualified employer-sponsored retirement plan into which eligible employees can make salary deferral contributions. Earnings in a 401(k) accrue on a tax-deferred basis.

A 403(b) retirement plan is comparable to a 401(k) plan but is designed specifically for employees of public schools, tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. A 457 plan is a retirement plan offered to state and local government employees.

The most common investments offered in 401(k) plans are mutual funds. A 403(b) lets employees invest in a tax-sheltered annuity plan or a designated Roth account.

You can also opt to save for retirement via an IRA in the event your employer does not offer a retirement plan, or you can use one to save an additional amount for retirement above and beyond the money saved in an employer-sponsored plan. As with a 401(k), retirement savers can enjoy the benefit of tax-deferred savings in a traditional IRA.

How Much of My Paycheck Goes to Medicare Tax?

The payroll tax for Medicare is 1.45% on the first $200,000 of an employee's wages. If you make more than $200,000, you will also pay a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax on top of the 1.45%. You aren't the only one paying Medicare tax. Employers also pay 1.45%. If you are self-employed, your Medicare tax rate will be 2.9%, in order to cover both the employee's and employer's portions.

Why Do I Have To Pay Medicare Tax?

Paying Medicare tax now makes it possible for you to have cheaper coverage later. For instance, Americans who paid proper taxes throughout their career will often qualify for free premiums on Medicare Part A.

Is FICA Based on Gross or Net Income?

FICA taxes are based on gross income, meaning your income before taxes are deducted. Your net income will reflect your take-home income after taxes, which includes the amount deducted from FICA taxes.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "How Is Medicare Funded?"

  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "What's Medicare?"

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 751 Social Security and Medicare Withholding Rates."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers for the Additional Medicare Tax," Select "When are individuals liable for Additional Medicare Tax?"

  5. Social Security Administration. "Fact Sheet: 2023 Social Security Changes," Page 1.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 401 Wages and Salaries."

  7. Social Security Administration. "What Are FICA and SECA Taxes?"

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Self-Employment Tax (Social Security and Medicare Taxes)."

  9. U.S. Congress. "H.R.748 - CARES Act."

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Plan Overview."

  11. Internal Revenue Service. "IRC 403(b) Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plans."

  12. Internal Revenue Service. "IRC 457(b) Deferred Compensation Plans."

  13. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. "Investing in Your 401(k)."

  14. Internal Revenue Service. "Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)."

  15. Social Security Administration. "What Is FICA?"

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.