Using Medicare Overseas


Be sure to wear sunscreen!

As the snow melts and Spring finally emerges, I can tell it’s travel season beacuse the lines at the TSA checkpoints are getting longer and the TSA agents are less patient.

One of the things I’m looking forward to in retirement is travel – on my own terms! It’s one thing if my company forces me to travel to a meeting in Miami. My mindset is completely different if I choose to go to Miami on my own. Funny how your perception of your travel destination changes when you’re the one making the choice!

I have to travel a lot for business and when I do, I never give my health insurance one single second of thought because I get it through my employer. It’s a national PPO plan from a big, well-known health insurance company with prescription drug coverage – which means if I have to use it, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find an in-network doctor just about anywhere in or out of the country.

However, if you’re on Medicare and plan on traveling out of the country, you better have a very clear understanding of whether or not you have coverage before you leave… just in case!

I actually wrote a post about this a few years back, and you can find it by clicking here. Once you’ve read it, come back to this page to finish up.

Medicare and Foreign Travel Coverage

The headline is – Medicare A and B don’t offer much, or any coverage outside of the United States or its territories. That’s really the bottom line. The Medicare website even says so. In fact, it starts the “Travel” page off with, “Medicare usually doesn’t cover health care while you’re traveling outside the U.S.”

Yes, there are sections you can read through here that says you’re covered if you’re traveling through Canada on your way to Alaska and a few other exceptions/circumstantial situations… but the bottom line is if you have Original Medicare only and a Prescription Drug Card (PDP) you don’t get much – or any – coverage at all overseas. So, what are your options?

Foreign Travel Coverage When You Have Original Medicare

If you don’t have a Medicare Advantage plan, and get your coverage through only your red, white and blue Original Medicare card, there are still some ways that you can have various medical services covered. For instance, Original Medicare must cover the care that you get outside of the United States if the following criteria apply:

  • Medicare will pay for emergency care that you receive in Canada, provided that you are in the process of traveling via a direct route between Alaska and another U.S. state, and the nearest hospital that can treat you is located in Canada.
  • Medicare will also provide coverage for care that you receive if you are on a cruise ship when the ship is in U.S. territorial waters. (This includes when the ship is in a United States port, or if it is within six hours of either departure from, or arrival at, a U.S. port.)
  • In some cases, Medicare may pay for inpatient services received in a foreign hospital that are not considered to be emergencies – but only if the hospital is closer to your residence than the nearest available United States hospital.

Foreign Travel Coverage When You Have a Medicare Advantage Plan

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, check with your insurer. Because Medicare Advantage plans are offered though private insurance carriers and not Medicare itself, the benefits that are provided with these Medicare Part C plans can differ (as can the amount of the premium). You could also have higher out-of-pocket copayments and / or coinsurance costs that may apply if you get care outside of the U.S.

If you don’t want to dig out your plan documents from under your reading pile, just call them and ask. The number is on the back of your ID card.

Foreign Travel Coverage When You Have a Medicare Supplement Plan

If you have a Medicare Supplement plan, you may be in luck. There are ten different Medicare Supplement insurance plans available in the market today – and some, but not all, of these offer some foreign travel coverage.

Plans C, D, F, G, M, and N provide foreign travel emergency health care coverage when you travel outside the US and Plans C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M, and N pay 80% of the billed charges for certain medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. after you meet a $250 deductible for the year. These Medigap policies cover foreign travel emergency care if it begins during the first 60 days of your trip, and if Medicare doesn’t otherwise cover the care. If you get sick on Day 61? Hmmm.

The Takeaway:

I’d highly recommend you shop and buy true International Health Insurance coverage. If you happen to have a Medicare Supplement plan that provides overseas coverage, great. If you happen to have a Medicare Advantage plan that covers you when you’re travelling, that’s great, too. This will go on top of both. Having too much health insurance coverage, just for a short time when you’re traveling overseas isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s actually pretty smart.

As you now know, neither Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplements actually cover 100% of your charges overseas and may come alone with some pretty large deductibles to meet before your coverage kicks in.

If you don’t have either a Medicare Supplement or a Medicare Advantage plan that covers international travel, you definitely should consider buying international health insurance coverage. Here of some links of companies I found doing a simple Google search. I’ve never used any of them, but they’re all large, reputable insurance companies. I can’t recommend a particular one over another so please do your own research!

Happy Travelling!

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Author Bio: Ben started Prepare for Medicare in 2014 to help people help people get objective answers to questions about Medicare. He’s held leadership roles at numerous Fortune 500 Medicare health insurers in product development, sales, marketing and strategy for over 20 years.