Do Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans cover foreign travel?

Steven Mott by Steven Mott | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/16/2018

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Does Medicare offer international coverage?

If you’re looking forward to traveling abroad in your retirement, you may be wondering if your Medicare coverage will take care of health-care needs you may have while in a foreign country. Original Medicare generally does not cover health care you receive while traveling outside the United States and its territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands).

Original Medicare may pay for inpatient hospital care, doctor services, ambulance services, or dialysis you receive outside the United States and its territories in these very limited circumstances:

  • You’re in the U.S. when you have a medical emergency but you’re close enough to its border that the nearest hospital is outside the United States. Or, you live near the border and the closest hospital that can treat you (regardless of whether it’s an emergency) is outside the United States.
  • You’re traveling between Alaska and another U.S. state via a direct route through Canada “without unreasonable delay,” and a medical emergency occurs while you’re in Canada. If the nearest hospital in Canada is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital, Medicare may cover the emergency care.
  • You’re on a cruise ship within the territorial waters that border U.S. land areas and could reach a U.S. port within six hours; in this situation, Medicare may cover medically necessary services you receive while on board the ship. You’re not covered if your ship is more than six hours away from the nearest U.S. port.

Other than these situations, Medicare typically doesn’t offer international coverage or pay for health care provided outside the United States. In addition, Medicare plans that cover prescription drugs do not cover prescriptions you buy outside of the United States. So if you have Medicare or you’re almost eligible for Medicare and plan to travel abroad, it’s important to consider supplemental coverage that will protect you in case of a medical emergency outside the United States.

What are my options for Medicare foreign travel coverage?

While Original Medicare only covers international medical coverage in limited situations, some Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans include emergency foreign travel coverage if you’re outside of the country (up to plan limits). If you have Original Medicare and would like to travel abroad frequently or for extended periods of time, a Medicare Supplement plan that works alongside your Part A and Part B insurance might be an option. Medicare Supplement plans are offered by private insurance companies and may help with out-of-pocket costs for certain services not covered under Original Medicare, including cost-sharing and emergency health services outside of the country.

There are 10 Medicare Supplement plans available in most states, with each plan labeled by a letter of the alphabet (for example, Medicare Supplement Plan F). Benefits are standardized across each plan type in 47 states. In other words, a Medicare Supplement Plan F in California will have the same benefits as a Plan F in New York. The exception is if you live in Massachusetts, Minnesota, or Wisconsin; these states offer their own standardized plans. Insurance companies aren’t required to offer all 10 of the Medicare Supplement plan types. However, they must offer at least Plan A if they offer any Medicare Supplement policy, and they must also offer Plan C or Plan F if they offer any Medicare Supplement plans other than Plan A.

Six of the Medicare Supplement plans provide foreign travel coverage for medical emergencies outside the United States, up to plan limits. Plans C, D, F, G, M, and N offer international coverage for emergency health care, if your foreign travel emergency care begins during the first 60 days after leaving the United States and if Medicare doesn’t otherwise cover the care. If you sign up for one of these Medicare Supplement plans that covers foreign travel, you pay a $250 annual deductible and 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for certain medically necessary services. Foreign travel emergency coverage with Medicare Supplement plans that provide such coverage  has a lifetime benefit maximum of $50,000.

  • Note: Four Medicare Supplement plans (Plans E, H, I, and J) also provide coverage for foreign travel coverage. These plans are no longer available, but if you enrolled in one of these older plans before June 1, 2010, you can continue to use it as long as you continue to pay your Medicare Supplement premium, along with your Part B premium, as applicable.

When is a good time to apply for Medicare Supplement insurance?

While you can apply for a Medicare Supplement plan at any time, you have a guaranteed-issue right during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period.  This means the insurance company that offers the Medicare Supplement coverage cannot refuse to cover you, require medical underwriting, or ask you to pay a higher premium because you have a pre-existing condition. Your six-month Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period starts automatically once you have Part B and are 65 or older; once it’s over, you only have guaranteed-issue rights in certain situations and may have trouble switching plans if you have health issues. So if you plan to travel extensively and think a Medicare Supplement plan with international coverage may meet your needs, it may be a good idea to sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period. If you have questions about when to sign up, you can learn more about your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period and your options by contacting me or another licensed insurance agent at Medicare.com.

What other Medicare options do I have for foreign travel coverage?

Some Medicare Advantage plans may provide coverage benefits for health-care needs when you’re traveling outside of the United States. Medicare Advantage plans are part of the Part C program and offered through private insurance companies that are approved by Medicare. These plans must offer at least the same level of coverage as Original Medicare provides (other than hospice care, which is covered under Part A). They may also provide additional benefits, such as emergency foreign travel benefits. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, or considering one, check with the plan to learn more about whether overseas health care is covered before taking a trip abroad.

  • Note: Medicare Supplement plans cannot be used in conjunction with a Medicare Advantage plan. If you have a Medicare Supplement plan and decide to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, your Medicare Supplement coverage won’t pay for Medicare Advantage plan costs.

Outside of the Medicare program, some private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health-care costs incurred overseas, including evacuations. If you decide to explore this option, be sure to verify that the international coverage includes medical expenses incurred in the foreign countries you plan to travel to. The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, offers a listing of insurance companies that offer travel medical insurance and may serve as a good starting point if you want to investigate this option further; you can also click here for more information.

Are you interested in learning more about Medicare foreign travel coverage outside of the United States?  Let me know if you’d like help exploring your options.

  • You can use one of the links below to set up a phone call with me or request personalized information from me by email.
  • You can also do some research on your own to get familiar with Medicare plan options in your area by clicking on the Compare Plans button on this page.

The purpose of this communication is the solicitation of insurance.  Contact will be made by an insurance agent/producer or insurance company.

Medicare Supplement insurance plans are not connected with or endorsed by the U.S. government or the Federal Medicare program.

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