There are a lot of perks that come with growing older. The average 65 year old may not have to work for a living anymore. They’re able to get their health insurance through Medicare. They may also have more time to pursue hobbies, spend time with family, and, of course, travel. However, what many seniors don’t realize is that Medicare is only limited to treatment received within U.S. borders. If you plan on traveling outside of the country, you won’t be covered in case you become injured and sick. This only highlights the importance of travel medical insurance.
Where can I use Medicare to cover medical treatment?
When it comes to international travel, Medicare has certain limitations. If you have Medicare, you can receive medical care and treatment from anywhere in the United States and its other territories, including:
- The U.S. Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico
- American Samoa
- The U.S. Northern Mariana Islands (including Saipan, Rota, Tinian, and others)
Will I be covered by Medicare outside of the United States?
No. What does Medicare cover then? Medicare is meant for medical coverage within the United States and its territories. Medicare prescription drug plans are also only meant for within the United States; outpatient medications purchased outside the U.S. will not be covered by Medicare.
There are, however, a few instances in which Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plus plans may cover you outside of the U.S. These instances include:
- If you’re traveling a direct route between Alaska and another state and require emergency services, Medicare will pay for these services in Canada if the closest hospital that can treat you is located in Canada
- If you’re on a cruise ship and you receive medical care while the ship is in U.S. territorial waters (in a U.S. port or within six hours of arrival or departure from a U.S. port), Medicare will pay for your medicare care
- Medicare may pay for non-emergency inpatient services in a foreign hospital in very limited situations, such as if a foreign hospital is closer to your primary residence than the nearest available U.S. hospital (if you live near the border of Mexico or Canada, for example)
Will Medigap or Medicare Advantage provide international medical coverage?
If you’ve added Medigap to your Medicare plan as a supplement, there are six plans (plan C, D, F, G, M, and N) that will provide some coverage for medical emergencies outside of the United States. However, for these expenses to be covered, medical care must start within 60 days of leaving the U.S. A typical Medigap plan will contain a lifetime benefit maximum of $50,000, in which the patient pays a $250 deductible plus 20% coinsurance.
The downside to Medigap is that there’s a very limited window of time in which you’re qualified to enroll, so many seniors miss the opportunity to ever enroll in this coverage.
If you’ve purchased Medicare Advantage, there are some plans that do offer coverage for any medical costs that arise during international travel. However, because each plan and policy is different, you’ll need to check with your carrier to see if they offer coverage, and if they do, what exactly is offered.
Although there are special circumstances and plans that offer coverage beyond domestic healthcare coverage, these are few and far between. In general, if you’re traveling outside of the United States, your medical treatment costs will not be covered by Medicare, which means you should purchase a travel health insurance plan to cover you.
What benefits does travel insurance offer?
International travel insurance is important since seniors over 65 may have medical conditions that require prescription medication or special care. Keep in mind, though, that insurance will generally not cover pre-existing conditions, unless specific acute onset of pre-existing coverage is offered. Travel medical insurance also provides the peace of mind to travelers that they’ll be covered in the event that they become sick or injured while outside of the U.S.
However, there are added benefits and add-ons that are especially helpful for seniors looking for a travel medical plan. They include:
- Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation: If you’re traveling to a remote area or are taking a cruise, emergency medical evacuation may be necessary if you have a medical emergency. However, this service is costly; depending on what country you’re in, it can cost upwards of a few hundreds of thousands of dollars without insurance. Likewise, in the tragic instance that your mortal remains need to be returned home to your family, this benefit can protect you and your loved ones from the high cost of this service.
- Acute onset of pre-existing conditions: While health insurance doesn’t provide coverage for pre-existing conditions, you can be covered by this add-on if you have an unexpected re-occurrence of a symptom that’s associated with a chronic condition or disease, such as diabetes or arthritis. If a traveler has a serious health condition that could flare up while traveling, this benefit is valuable.
- Comprehensive coverage: While limited coverage only provides a predetermined limited amount of coverage, comprehensive coverage can cover 100% of costs after the insured meets the specific deductible. If there’s a possibility that your medical bills would be more costly, then this is a great choice.
- 24-hour emergency assistance: A number of travel insurance plans include a 24/7 service hotline that you can call if you need to know whether something is covered by your plan, or to have any questions answered regarding your plan and benefits.
Although Medicare provides ample medical coverage within the United States, purchasing a travel medical plan for international travel is a smart way to make sure you’re covered. If you’re traveling internationally as a senior, you should feel a mix of excitement and security. Ultimately, a travel medical insurance plan will help you travel with peace of mind, knowing that if anything were to happen, you’ll still be covered.