Traveling Abroad With Medicare
Well its that time of year when folks are doing a bunch of traveling. Keep in mind that traveling domestically is different than Medicare foreign travel. The great news is that anyone on Original Medicare can travel anywhere in the United States and have access to medical care from almost any hospital or doctor.
So now you might be wondering “What’s the bad news?” Keeping in mind that the Medicare program is unique to the United States, it is not designed to provide benefits outside of the U.S. or its territories. Medicare usually does not cover health care expenses when traveling outside the U.S., but there are some exceptions such as:
- Part B of Medicare may pay for care received on board a ship as long as it is within territorial waters, but it won’t pay for those services when a ship is more than 6 hours away from the nearest U.S. port.
- Medicare may pay for certain expenses in a foreign country if you are in the U.S. when a medical emergency occurs and a foreign hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital.
How To Prepare
The good news is that with a little bit of advance knowledge and preparation, you can travel pretty much worry free about unforeseen medical expenses. Currently most folks on Medicare fall into 1 or 2 groups. They either have Original Medicare with a Medicare Supplement or they have a Medicare Advantage plan. Let’s go quickly review how each works for foreign travel.
Some Medicare Advantage Plans provide you with worldwide emergency coverage. Not all Medicare Advantage plans provide additional foreign travel coverage so it is imperative that you review your coverage before traveling. Some plans that do provide additional foreign travel emergency care may want you to notify them before leaving the country. If your Medicare Advantage plan does not provide additional benefits for foreign travel, it must still provide the same benefits that original Medicare would cover (see exceptions above). Once again this is for emergency care only and not for routine types of visits. Keep in mind that many foreign hospitals do not bill the plan directly so you will likely have to pay for these costs upfront and then submit an itemized bill to your plan for reimbursement. Be sure to keep all of your medical receipts if anything unexpected happens.
For those folks on original Medicare and have a Medicare Supplement, the coverage will work a bit differently. Original Medicare will not pay outside the U.S. (unless it qualifies as a listed exception) so you will need to have any of the following Medicare Supplement plans to provide your coverage:
- Plan C
- Plan D
- Plan F
- Plan G
- Plan M
- Plan N
The Medicare foreign travel benefit found in these plans is very simple. There is a separate $250 deductible and then the plan will pay 80% of the costs up to a lifetime maximum of $50,000. Keep in mind that your coverage is in effect during the first 60 days you are out of the country.
So as you can see, you actually do have coverage under certain Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans. With coverage being more restrictive outside the U.S. it is always best to purchase an additional travel policy to help supplement your existing coverage. A word of caution, not all travel plans provide emergency health benefits, so be sure to get one that specifically does. Check the fine print for such things as will the plan pay actual charges or ‘usual and customary‘, and how pre-existing conditions are treated. If the policy will not cover pre-existing conditions and you have a Medicare Supplement plan with foreign travel benefits, then you could use your travel plan for any emergency or sickness not related to a pre-existing condition (and vice-versa for anything related to a pre-existing condition). These plans can usually be purchased thru a travel agent and can provide coverage past 60 days. Medicare foreign travel planning will make your next international trip much more relaxing.