Traveling in retirement is a goal for many retirees, and with COVID-19 vaccines now being distributed across the United States, you might be considering taking a long-awaited vacation or trip out of the country. Before you book your plane tickets, though, don't forget about your health insurance. If you're on Medicare, it's important to understand which Medicare plans cover foreign travel and which do not before you grab your passport.
If you're new to Medicare and deciding which plan to enroll in, you may want to ensure that the plan you buy now will cover any health care needs that may arise during your future international travels.
What Is Considered Foreign Travel?
Medicare is specific about what is considered foreign or international travel and what it will or will not cover. In general, though, Original Medicare (Parts A and B) only covers travel within the U.S., which includes Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, though there are some exceptions.
If you're on board a cruise ship and a medically necessary situation arises, Medicare Part B (medical insurance) may pay for some health services if the ship is within the territorial waters adjoining the land areas of the U.S. If you're more than six hours away from a U.S. port, though, you'll need to cover the cost some other way.
Which Medicare Plans Cover Foreign Travel?
Because Original Medicare typically doesn't cover health care while you're traveling outside the U.S., many retirees look to Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) or Medicare Advantage plans to fill in the gaps. Each plan is different, so it's important to study your specific policy before traveling in retirement, and even more so if you're deciding on a plan to purchase.
Medigap is a supplemental insurance option that does provide foreign travel coverage in certain circumstances if you're enrolled in Original Medicare. Standard Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, M and N provide foreign travel emergency health care coverage for travel outside of the U.S.
Plans E, H, I and J are not currently for sale, but if you purchased your plan before June 1, 2010, you can still use it for foreign travel emergency health care coverage when you travel outside the U.S.
If you have Medigap Plan C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M or N, your plan covers:
- Foreign travel emergency care that begins during the first 60 days of your trip if Medicare doesn't cover the care.
- Eighty percent of the billed charges for certain emergency care outside the U.S. that is deemed medically necessary once you meet a $250 deductible for the year.
Foreign travel emergency coverage with Medigap policies have a lifetime limit of $50,000.
Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C, are a privately offered alternative to Original Medicare, but their coverage for foreign travel varies with each plan. It's best to ask your insurance provider any specific questions about international travel you may have before you purchase a Medicare Advantage plan.
Note that Medigap policies don't work with Medicare Advantage plans, only Original Medicare, so you'll have to choose one or the other.
A Note on Prescription Drugs
Before you leave the country, make sure you stock up on any prescription medications you'll need while you're traveling, as Medicare drug plans don't cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S.
Talk to an Agent Before You Leave
When it comes to billing, note that foreign hospitals aren't required to file Medicare claims for your travel medical costs if you end up in the hospital or in a situation where coverage is at play. You'll need to submit an itemized bill to Medicare, and it's a good idea to get one of these whether you'll be submitting it to Medicare or simply keeping it for your own records.
Talk with an insurance agent to get more information on the specific details of your plan and discuss your needs before you embark on any foreign travel. Arm yourself with as much knowledge and preparation as possible so you can sidestep any unexpected surprises while you're traveling in retirement, and consider exploring travel insurance if your Medicare plans don't offer the coverage you will require.