How traveling affects Medicare coverage

In 2016 alone, almost 68 million Americans traveled abroad. If you or someone you know is planning a trip overseas this year, it’s important to know your travel insurance options so you can stay safe, prepared, and relaxed while enjoying your vacation. As a general rule of thumb, healthcare while abroad is not covered by Original Medicare—but Medicare Supplement insurance often covers travel insurance. Learn more about how to stay covered while overseas.
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When Does Medicare Work Outside Of The United States?

If you’re traveling to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, then your Medicare insurance will cover your treatment. Outside of these, healthcare is normally not covered abroad. However, there are select instances when your Medicare will work out outside of the United States. As the Medicare website explains:

  • You’re in the U.S. when a medical emergency occurs, but the closest hospital that can treat you is outside of the U.S.
  • You’re traveling from Alaska to Canada through the fastest route when a medical emergency occurs and a Canadian hospital is closer than an American hospital.
  • You live in the U.S., but the closest hospital to you is in a foreign country (even for non-emergency situations).

For most Americans, these situations are rare and mostly apply to citizens who live in the northern states along the Canadian border. As a rule of thumb: if you’re outside of the United States, your Medicare will not cover your treatment.

What Happens If You Have An Emergency Overseas?

In most cases, you will be expected to pay the complete cost of your emergency room treatment if you have a health crisis abroad. For Medicare overseas coverage in the situations listed above, you will be expected to cover a standard 20 percent co-pay.

Before you leave the United States, make sure you research average costs of uninsured healthcare within the country you are traveling so you can plan accordingly if something goes wrong.

Some countries charge foreigners more than their citizens and may limit the hospitals they are able to visit—often escalating an already stressful situation. Even if travelers have unrestricted visiting access to any hospitals, there may be some that should be avoided. Before you leave, make a note of the highest-rated hospitals in the area with English-speaking doctors. If you’re unable to do this before you leave, your guide or hotel concierge should be able to help you.

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What Are My Travel Insurance Options?

Many standard Medicare Supplement Insurance plans provide foreign travel emergency healthcare coverage outside of the U.S. with a lifetime limit of $50,000. But make sure you know how to file a claim—in most cases, your Medicare provider will ask for an itemized list of treatments before it can approve a claim, which can be hard to receive from the hospital after you have left.

Another option is to buy travel insurance through a third party. Many airlines offer travel insurance as an add-on during the booking process, which will cover medical emergencies and travel disruptions. You can expect basic travel insurance to cover:

  • Trip cancellation due to sickness, weather events, terrorism, or tour company bankruptcy
  • Medical coverage and emergency dental coverage
  • Emergency evacuations such as a medical airlift home or repatriation should you pass away in a foreign country
  • Lost or delayed bags and canceled flights

Travel insurance tends to be a catch-all for solving problems that occur abroad, which is why many travelers prefer to buy it in addition to a Medigap supplement.

The cost of your Medicare supplement for overseas travel and your travel insurance will vary depending on the countries that you’re visiting, the duration of your trip, and your current health. As with most insurance quotes, providers list the price based on risk factors and the likelihood of needing a payout.

Before you make any decisions based on your health insurance coverage overseas, make sure you evaluate the costs and benefits of all of your options. This will allow you to make a choice that’s best for your needs and for your wallet.

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