Traveling with Medicare
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Our clients often tell us one of the main perks of retirement is having time to travel. But how does travel impact your Medicare coverage? To get the best idea of how your healthcare coverage will travel with you, we should break down the answer into Medicare coverage and supplemental coverage.
Medicare Coverage While Traveling
We have good news and bad news.
The good news: While traveling within the United States, you can go to any provider that accepts Medicare (which is the vast majority of them).
The bad news: In most cases, Medicare will not cover your healthcare expenses while traveling outside the United States. There are a few rare exceptions to this rule:
Emergencies near the border. If you are in the United States, have a medical emergency, and the closest hospital is outside the United States, you'll have Medicare coverage at the foreign hospital.
Road trip to Alaska. If you're traveling between the contiguous United States and Alaska, have a medical emergency, and a Canadian hospital is closer than a U.S. hospital, then you'll have Medicare coverage. A few notes: your trip must be "without reasonable delay" and the "most direct route."
Living near the border. If you live in the United States, but a foreign hospital is closer to your home than a U.S hospital, then you'll have Medicare coverage at the foreign hospital. In this scenario (unlike the first one), you'll get coverage regardless of whether the condition is a medical emergency.
You're on a ship near the U.S. This exception might come up if you're on a cruise. If you are within 6 hours of a U.S. port, Medicare may cover medically necessary healthcare.
Medicare Supplement Coverage While Traveling
Your Medicare Supplement plan most likely provides better travel coverage than Original Medicare alone. For starters, Medigap plans are not network plans, so you will have coverage anywhere Medicare is accepted. You can travel throughout the United States with confidence that you'll have healthcare coverage.
Most Medigap plans have emergency coverage outside of the United States. To ensure you're actually traveling and not actually living outside the U.S., Medigap plans only cover conditions that begin within the first 60 days of your foreign travel.
If your foreign medical services are covered by your Medigap plan, it will pay 80% of the charges after a $250 annual deductible. Foreign Medigap coverage has a lifetime limit of $50,000.
Medicare Advantage Coverage While Traveling
Because Medicare Advantage plans are not standardized, we aren't able to give a definitive answer regarding your travel coverage. As a general rule, you're much more restricted when it comes to travel coverage with a Medicare Advantage plan. For the most part, Medicare Advantage plans provide a network of doctors and hospitals and visiting an out-of-network provider will either be more expensive or not covered.
With a Medicare Advantage plan, it's important to review the plan's summary of benefits. Many plans include limited foreign coverage (essentially equal to Original Medicare) and other plans have more robust travel coverage.
International Travel Insurance Options
Because Medicare coverage is limited when traveling outside the U.S., many of our clients decide to enroll in a temporary international travel plan to cover their trips abroad. We've found the Travel Insurance Center to be a great resource for travel insurance, particularly medical coverage.