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Medicare doesn’t typically cover you when you travel internationally, although there are limited circumstances when Medicare will pay for your health care outside the United States. Medicare Advantage international coverage is similar, although it differs from Original Medicare for travel within the U.S.
Be sure to confirm your travel coverage before you take flight. Here’s what you should know.
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Does Medicare cover international travel?
Outside the U.S., Medicare usually doesn't cover health care unless:
A medical emergency occurs in the U.S., but a foreign hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can help.
A medical emergency occurs while you’re traveling between Alaska and another U.S. state by way of Canada, and the Canadian hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can help.
You live in the U.S., and a foreign hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can help. (In this case, it doesn’t have to be an emergency.)
You receive medically necessary health care on a ship within territorial waters near the U.S. (But if the ship is more than six hours from a U.S. port, Medicare won’t cover it.)
Under all circumstances, Medicare drug plans won’t cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S.
If you have Original Medicare and you’re traveling within the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands, you’re covered for care from any provider that accepts Medicare.
If your health care services outside the U.S. are covered, you’ll be responsible for your normal Medicare Part A and Part B deductibles, along with any copayment or coinsurance. Foreign hospitals won’t submit a claim to Medicare for you — you’ll need to get itemized bills and submit them.
Does Medicare Advantage cover international travel?
Medicare Advantage plans, or Medicare Part C plans, provide the same coverage that Original Medicare offers, so the scenarios listed above for international travel are also true for these plans. Some Medicare Advantage plans may also offer emergency coverage for foreign travel. Call your plan provider for more information.
If traveling within the U.S., Medicare Advantage plans insure emergency medical care. Beyond that, your coverage depends on your service area and the type of plan.
Medicare Advantage plans include a network of providers, and some plans (such as HMOs) are more restrictive about out-of-network services, so you’ll pay more for out-of-network care. Other plans (such as PPOs or private fee-for-service plans) are more flexible, although you’ll probably still pay more for out-of-network health care.
If you travel regularly and for long periods — maybe you winter in a sunny spot each year or you own a ski condo in the mountains — some Medicare Advantage plans offer “visitor” or “travel” programs for coverage while you’re away. This is something to consider, since if a Medicare Advantage enrollee remains outside their plan’s service area for more than six months, they may be involuntarily disenrolled from the plan.
UnitedHealthcare, for instance, offers a Passport feature on some plans that allows members to receive care from participating providers away from home for up to nine consecutive months.
Medicare Advantage companies
Get more information below about some of the major Medicare Advantage companies. These insurance companies offer plans in most states. The plans you can choose from will depend on your ZIP code and county.
How to cover yourself when traveling
For peace of mind, there are a few ways you can make sure you’re covered for medical care when you’re out of your policy’s service area:
Get Medigap coverage
If you have Original Medicare (or switch back to it), you may be able to purchase a Medicare Supplement Plan (or Medigap plan) that covers foreign travel emergency health care. Standard Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, M and N cover foreign travel emergency health care. Plans E, H, I and J also provide this coverage, but they’re no longer for sale. (If you bought one of these plans before June 1, 2010, you have this coverage.)
Under Medigap, you’re covered for foreign travel emergency care if it starts during the first 60 days of your trip. The plans pay 80% of billed charges after you meet a $250 deductible, and this coverage has a lifetime limit of $50,000.
Get travel insurance
Travel medical insurance acts like health insurance when you’re away from home, although it generally doesn’t cover routine medical care. (Need a checkup? Get that at home.) This is a policy you’d use if you broke a limb, needed emergency dentistry or required a medical evacuation, for example. If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to buy a policy that covers you internationally.
Get a Medicare Advantage plan with a travel benefit
Some Medicare Advantage plans come with travel coverage, but benefits vary, so check with your plan to get details on where and when you’re covered. Find out, too, how the plan functions: Do you pay first and file a claim for reimbursement, or will you owe a normal copay? The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.
Carry your documents
If you’re going abroad, carry your member ID card for the insurance covering you while you’re away, plus a claim form.
What Medicare covers
Medicare covers a lot of things — but not everything. Find out where Medicare stands in the following areas:
Got questions about Medicare and travel? Contact Medicare at medicare.gov or 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227, TTY: 877-486-2048).