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Medicare: Limitations for International Travelers

Medicare: Limitations for International Travelers

A majority of the population in the U.S. are elderly and retired people who do not have to work for a living anymore. They may have waited their entire lives to have the time and money to travel and see the world. These seniors get their health insurance through Medicare, the health insurance program administered by the U.S. government to provide medical coverage for people age 65 and older.

What most people may not know is that Medicare is limited to treatment received within the U.S. borders. If you are a senior citizen and traveling abroad, you are more prone to getting sick easily due to existing medical conditions, poor food and water quality, or even climate conditions. Any illness or medical emergency outside your home country must be paid for in cash and the medical bills become your liability,  if you don’t have a travel medical insurance plan.

Does Medicare Cover Medical Treatment When You Travel?

Medicare has certain limitations that apply to your international travel. If you have Medicare, you can travel anywhere in the U.S. and its territories and receive  medical care you need from almost any doctor or hospital. These territories include: 

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • American Samoa
  • The U.S. Northern Mariana Islands (including Saipan, Rota, Tinian, and others)
  • Guam

Outside the U.S. – even in Mexico and Canada – your medical treatment is not covered by Medicare, so you must have a travel health insurance plan.

Medicare Supplement Plans Are Not Overseas Travel Health Insurance

Many seniors in the U.S. purchase Medicare supplement plans to cover the gaps in their Medicare. Those plans purchased from private insurance providers (i.e., not the government)  may not cover foreign medical emergencies. Even if they do offer coverage, there may be limitations on the benefits of coverage. Medicare Advantage plans have restrictive lifetime limits. In short, a Medicare supplement plan is not the same as overseas travel health insurance. Do not rely on Medicare or Medicare supplement plans for your trip outside the U.S.

Medicare Supplement Plans Do Not Include Evacuation or Repatriation

If a senior is traveling in a foreign country, they may not be able to receive the same level of care they would back in the U.S. An emergency medical evacuation can easily cost over $50,000 depending on how far the traveler has to be transported and their medical condition. Neither Medicare nor any Medicare supplement plan has coverage for emergency medical evacuations or repatriation (return of mortal remains).

How to Get Coverage Outside the U.S. Border

If you’re traveling abroad, check whether your supplement plan covers your medical care abroad and what the limits are. Often, the limit with supplement plans may not be enough if you are badly injured or have a serious illness. You may be able to pay an extra premium or add additional riders to increase the limits, but you’ll have to verify this with your supplement plan provider.

While Medicare and the various supplemental plans do not offer or severely limit coverage for medical emergencies outside the U.S. border, travel health insurance plans are the solution for your medical costs when you leave your home country. When you are covered at home by Medicare, a travel health insurance plan acts as your primary health insurance when you go abroad.

Buy Travel Insurance

Though a travel insurance plan may not cover you for everything (may have limitations and exclusions for pre-existing conditions), it’ll still provide coverage for evacuation, repatriation, and 24/7 on-call assistance that you can call if you encounter a travel emergency and need advice and/or help. 

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