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 to make sure your health insurance is ready to travel with you—especially if you have Original Medicare (Parts A and B). Seniors who plan to travel extensively may want to consider purchasing a Medicare Supplement Plan (also known as Medigap) to provide additional medical coverage while away from home. Below are some important questions to consider when making travel plans and exploring your health insurance options.

Does Medicare Cover Seniors During International Travel?

It depends. If you’re planning on traveling to Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands or other United States territories, Original Medicare will cover you just as it would if you were within the continental U.S. 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 Original Medicare typically doesn’t cover any supplies or services rendered outside of the U.S., 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 receive at the hospital in Canada.

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 U.S., 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 services you received and submit them to Medicare.

Does Medicare Cover Prescriptions or Routine Treatments Outside the U.S.?

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

Does Medicare Cover Seniors on Cruises?

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 (i.e. outside U.S. territorial waters), you are not covered.

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Health Insurance Coverage Options for Seniors Who Love to 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 purchasing a Medigap plan. There are currently six available Medigap plan options (C, D, F, G, M and N) available through private insurance companies that include emergency health coverage for foreign travel.

However, be aware that 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’ll have to pay out of pocket for all medical care you receive there.
  • There is a lifetime limit of $50,000 for foreign travel emergency coverage.

Planning Is Key

When it comes to traveling, a little bit of planning goes a long way. If you or your loved one has Original Medicare, it’s important to understand that Medicare won’t cover medical expenses outside the United States in most cases. Before hitting 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.