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Medicare and Foreign Travel: What to Know About Medicare Coverage Outside the US

With a bit of planning, you can keep your Medicare coverage when traveling abroad.

October 17, 2017 - By Hal Levy - read

Does Medicare cover foreign travel? Well – that depends.

Medicare will pay for your international health insurance in a few U.S. territories and some unusual circumstances, but it ends there. Travel should be exciting – and giving yourself the opportunity for new adventures means keeping your health insurance boring and reliable.

To ensure emergency medical coverage outside the U.S., you’ll want to have coverage through a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plan. If your supplementary Medicare coverage doesn’t help, or you travel for long enough to require coverage for ongoing care, there are also affordable private options that will meet your needs.

Medicare Foreign Travel Coverage Under Original Medicare (Part A & Part B):

Original Medicare works like normal if you’re staying close to home. Your Medicare benefits continue without interruption in any of the 50 states. Even better, all U.S. territories – including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – accept Medicare just like the mainland U.S. does.

Medicare Coverage Outside the US: If you cross the border, your Original Medicare stays behind; Original Medicare won’t cover foreign travel. There are a few limited exceptions:

  • Cruise ships that are 6 hours or less from a U.S. port are considered to be domestic travel.
  • If you’re traveling directly to or from Alaska via Canada, then you can visit a Canadian hospital.
  • If you’re in the U.S. during a medical emergency but a foreign hospital is closer, then you can visit the foreign hospital without penalty.
  • You can also visit that foreign hospital if it’s closer to your place of residence in the United States than a domestic hospital, even if it’s not an emergency.

In all of these foreign travel exceptions, your inpatient hospital costs will be covered. You can also visit the emergency room even if you’re not admitted as an inpatient. Once you’ve been discharged, your medical transportation back home or follow-up care won’t be covered until you’re back on U.S. soil.

Medicare Supplement (Medigap):

Medicare Coverage Outside the US: Most Medigap plans include a foreign travel benefit. Medicare Supplement plans C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M, and N pay for 80 percent of the cost of medically necessary emergency care outside of the U.S. and its territories.

There are a few extra rules to this benefit:

  • You’ll be responsible for a separate $250 deductible before Medicare shares the cost of your care;
  • The medical emergency must occur within 60 days of the start of your trip, so it won’t work if you leave the country indefinitely; and
  • There’s a $50,000 lifetime limit to the amount this benefit will pay out.

Domestic travel: Medigap plans are not a Medicare replacement. They’re an additional benefit on top of your existing Original Medicare coverage. Your plan will continue to supplement the costs of your care in accordance with Medicare’s rules if you’re traveling inside the United States or its territories.

Medicare Advantage (Part C):

Medicare Coverage Outside the US : Unlike Medigap coverage, each Part C plan is different. Since Part C plans can choose to offer any benefit, it’s quite common for your plan to include foreign travel insurance (or partner with another insurer to do so). You’ll have to ask your Medicare Advantage provider to get answers about what’s in your specific plan.

If your Medicare Advantage plan does have travel insurance, you’ll want to make sure that the insurance explicitly covers health issues. You’ll also want to understand which health issues it covers before you go abroad. Keep in mind that Part C plans may not cover travel in every country or even cover travel emergencies at all.

Domestic Travel: Part C plans operate in limited geographic areas. Your benefits will be equal to or better than Original Medicare, but they don’t apply everywhere. If your Part C plan becomes aware that you’ve lived away from your plan’s service area for 6 months or more, then you may be automatically disenrolled.

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Private Travel Insurance

If you aren’t covered by Medicare Supplement or Part C, you can and should enroll in travel insurance before you leave the country.

Travel health insurance plans are very affordable – usually less than $100 for a short trip – and they typically cover emergency expenses. Travel insurance is designed to keep you healthy until you get home. You’ll want to search for a plan that covers medical needs (and not just lost luggage, for instance).

While insurance brokers aren’t allowed to sell you health insurance if you already have Medicare, they are allowed to sell you insurance that covers your medical needs abroad. Insurers or travel agents will be happy to connect you to a policy. If you’re going on a cruise or package vacation, your vacation provider should have at least one option available.

There are also health insurance options for Americans who visit foreign countries for long periods of time. For extended stays abroad, you’ll want to seek out long-term foreign health insurance (also called “expatriate insurance”). The specifics of your long-term health insurance will depend on the country that you visit.

How Much Does Healthcare Cost Around the World?

It’s fairly well-known that the United States spends more per person on healthcare than any other developed nation. Oops.

If you visit a foreign country and have health insurance, your copayments may be quite small. For instance, if you make it to France, a visit to a government doctor with insurance will cost around $26. An expensive private doctor would still cost around $130.

In general, you can expect healthcare costs in developed nations to be well under 50 percent of what you might pay in the U.S. This can still be very expensive in an emergency or when accessing long-term care.

Taking the Next Steps

HealthCare.com can connect you with a professional to see which Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans are available to you. A broker can give you quotes from multiple plans free of charge.

For More Reading:

To Get Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage Quotes:

Search for Medicare Supplement plans at HealthCare.com, or find Medicare Advantage issuers at MedicareGuide.com.

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