What Should You Know About Medicare When You Travel?
By: Danielle Kunkle
Many retirees use their new-found free time to travel. Therefore, it would be nice to know that you can travel without worrying about your medical coverage. No one wants to go to the doctor while on vacation. However, accidents do happen. So, here’s what you should know about how Medicare covers you during foreign travel.
Foreign Travel with Original MedicareOriginal Medicare is made up of Part A hospital coverage and Part B outpatient coverage. You can get these benefits either directly from Medicare itself or through a private Medicare plan. You can also purchase voluntary retail drug coverage through Medicare’s Part D program.
Your Original Medicare benefits do not offer any foreign travel coverage. Medicare only covers you while you are either in the continental United States or traveling within any of the American territories. The American territories consist of Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
There are certain limited circumstances when Original Medicare will cover your medical care in a foreign country. For example, when you are in the United States, yet a foreign hospital is closer, Original Medicare may cover an emergency visit to that hospital. Also, when you are traveling through Canada to get to or from Alaska and a Canadian hospital is the nearest option in an emergency, Original Medicare may cover it.
Although Medicare usually only covers foreign expenses in case of an emergency, there is one case where they may be covered even if the treatment isn’t for an emergency. This occurs when you live in the United States and a foreign hospital is closer to your home than an American one. Original Medicare may cover your medical expenses in this scenario.
It’s important to understand that since Medicare does not cover 100% of your costs, most beneficiaries purchase additional coverage to help fill in the gaps. Some of these supplemental coverages include benefits for foreign travel emergencies.
Foreign Travel with Medigap PlansThe first type of supplemental coverage is Medicare supplements, also called Medigap plans. These plans pay after Medicare first pays its share. Medigap plans help to cover the deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance that Original Medicare leaves for you to pay.
In addition to covering these gaps, several Medigap plans include a foreign travel benefit. Six out of the ten available Medigap plans today offer 80% coverage for foreign travel emergencies. Medigap Plan C, Plan D, Plan F, Plan G, Plan M, and Plan N include this coverage.
Medigap plan will only cover your emergency if it occurs within the first 60 days you are outside of the country. Luckily, not many of us travel more than 60 consecutive days. However, before the Medigap plan will cover their 80% of the bill, you must meet a small deductible. As of 2019, the foreign travel emergency deductible for Medigap plans is $250.
Another condition of this benefit is that there is a limit to how much the Medigap plan will pay for foreign travel emergencies. The Medigap plan gives you a lifetime limit of $50,000. After you have used your limit, you have to cover 100% of your costs for foreign travel emergencies.
Foreign Travel with Medicare Advantage PlansUnlike Medigap plans, Medicare Advantage plans are private plans that pay instead of Original Medicare. The insurance companies offering these plans each set their own copays and deductibles for you, the member. Therefore, there is no Medicare Advantage plan that is exactly like another. All Medicare Advantage plans cover the same Part A and B services though. It’s just that your share of those costs may be different.
Medicare Advantage plans are often less expensive than Medigap plans because you will get your care from the plan’s network. There are Medicare Advantage plans with premiums as low as $0 per month in some counties, although you still must pay for Part B.
All Medicare Advantage plans include worldwide emergency coverage. Remember, that for any part of Medicare to cover medical expenses in another country, they must be considered emergencies. If your Medicare Advantage plan has an out-of-network deductible, you may also have to meet that prior to the plan paying for foreign travel emergencies.
Visit A Travel Agent for Short-Term SolutionsIf you don’t already have either a Medigap plan or a Medicare Advantage plan, you should consider enrolling in one, especially if you travel often. If you are unable to enroll in a Medicare plan, you should talk to a travel agent.
Travel agents often are able to get you set up with a short-term health plan that can protect you while traveling outside of the country. In the end, as long as you have some form of coverage while traveling, you’ll have better peace of mind and be able to enjoy your vacation.