Retirement is a great time to travel and see the world. Now that you’re no longer bogged down by office projects or limited by the number of vacation days you can take, you can book a cruise, sign up for a tour, or hop in the car and hit the road. If your travels take you outside of the United States, you need to make sure you have access to health insurance in case something goes wrong. Original Medicare might not cover your medical treatments abroad, so it’s important to know your options so that you can stay safe and prepared.
When Does Medicare Work Outside Of The United States?
If you’re traveling to any of the 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, then your Medicare insurance will cover your treatment. 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 quite 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 costs 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 20 percent co-pay, which is standard anytime you use Medicare.
Before you leave the United States, make sure you research average costs of healthcare within the country for people without insurance, so you can plan accordingly if something goes wrong.
Some countries charge foreigners more than their country’s citizens and even limit the hospitals that they’re able to visit, which can make an already stressful situation even more so. Even if you’re able to visit any hospital within the country, there are some that you may want to avoid. Make a note of the cities you’re visiting and which hospitals in the area are the cleanest and highest-rated — or at least have English-speaking doctors so you can communicate your problems. If you’re unable to do this before you leave, your guide or hotel concierge should be able to help you.
What Are My Travel Insurance Options?
It’s possible to receive Medicare travel insurance through a Medigap plan. This will cover any emergency treatment you receive outside of the United States. If you accept these additional policies, make sure you understand how to file a claim. In most cases, the Medicare provider will ask for an itemized list of treatments before it can approve a claim. This can be hard to get 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; this will cover medical emergencies along with travel disruptions. For example, 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 in the event that you pass away in a foreign country.
- Lost or delayed bags and canceled flights
Travel insurance tends to be more of a catch-all for solving problems that could occur abroad, which is why many travelers prefer to buy it even if they also get 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, the provider lists 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.