Senior Travel: Should You Get a Medigap Policy?


Do you have a thirst for travel? When the kids are grown and the mortgage is paid off, many retirees and seniors develop a serious case of wanderlust. But before you book that Caribbean cruise or sign up for a three-month excursion to Eastern Europe, it’s important you make sure your health insurance is ready to travel with you—especially if you have Medicare. Here are some of the top questions and answers about Medicare coverage while traveling.

Will my Medicare coverage go with me if I travel abroad?

It depends. If you’re planning on traveling to Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or other United States territories, Medicare will cover you just as it would if you were within the continental United States. The supplies and services covered while you’re at home would also be covered on your visit to any of these locations.

However, if you’re planning on traveling somewhere other than a United States territory, it’s important to realize your Medicare coverage will be extremely limited, at best. Plan on paying the full cost of any medical services you receive, as Medicare typically doesn’t cover any supplies or services rendered outside of the United States, except in a few very specific circumstances.

One such situation would be if you were on your way to vacation in Alaska and had a health emergency that couldn’t be effectively treated at a nearby American hospital, but could be handled by a Canadian hospital close to your route. In this case, Medicare may cover some of the health services you received at the Canadian hospital.

There are a few things worth noting in these very specific situations:

  • Your coinsurance, deductible and copays still apply even though you are outside of the United States.
  • Unlike hospitals in the United States, foreign hospitals are not required to file a Medicare claim on your behalf. That means if you do receive covered treatment outside the country, it is up to you to collect itemized bills for all of the services you received and submit them to Medicare.

Will Medicare pay for prescriptions or routine treatments while I'm traveling internationally?

No. If you’re traveling abroad and need a prescription drug or require a routine, non-emergency treatment like dialysis or blood monitoring, you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for these costs.

Does Medicare cover me while I'm on a cruise?

The short answer is maybe. The longer answer is it depends on where the cruise ship is when you receive medical services. If the ship is within six hours of a United States port when the services are rendered, you’re covered—even if the situation is not considered an emergency. If you’re more than six hours away—or outside U.S. territorial waters—you are not covered.

What are my options for health insurance coverage while I travel?

If you’re planning on traveling outside the country and want to supplement your Medicare coverage with a plan that offers coverage abroad, you may want to consider a Medigap plan. There are currently six available Medigap plan options (C, D, F, G, M and N) that include emergency health coverage for foreign travel.

However, be aware your Medigap plan comes with limitations:

  • Most plans have a $250 deductible separate from your Medicare deductible.
  • Medigap plans only cover 80 percent of the bill for “medically necessary” emergency services received outside the United States, leaving you responsible for the balance.
  • Medigap plans only cover emergency medical services that occur within 60 days of the start of your trip, so if you get in an accident during your third month in Italy, you’re on your own.
  • There is a lifetime limit of $50,000 for foreign travel emergencies.

Proper planning leads to smooth sailing

When it comes to your travel adventure, a little bit of planning goes a long way. If you or your loved one has Medicare, it’s important you understand in most cases, Medicare won’t cover you outside the United States. Before you hit the friendly skies or open seas, explore Medigap plan options that offer health coverage for foreign travel. By doing so, you’ll not only have peace of mind, but you’ll be better prepared for any medical emergencies that may arise while you’re abroad.

Ryan Smolek is the Vice President of Marketplace Operation for GoHealth Insurance, the nation’s most complete online portal for finding health insurance coverage. Possessing the experience, technology and infrastructure procured over the past decade, GoHealth is committed to the continual strengthening of the health insurance community.

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Always best to purchase travel and emergency hospital insurance before you travel and forget Medicare.
Thank you! Now how do I get my bro who has mom's passport to hand it over so we can take my mom on her dream vacation. She has dementia & he thinks it doesn't matter because she won't remember....
This is a common problem with some members of family who hinder patient travel. If your brother feels that mother will be more of a problem in strange environments respect his position. If she is ambulatory and cognizant he should not have any objection but I would let the doctor have the deciding voice yes or no. If yes then you have a strong position.