Foreign travel brings health insurance considerations [Column]

You have made your plans and are on your way to vacation in a far off exotic vacation destination. Still, you might have forgotten something amidst all the arrangements and packing. If you become ill or experience an accident or need to be evacuated back to the US, are you covered for care? The possibility may be remote but still bears consideration. Alternatives may include your own regular health insurance coverage either through a group or private plan or Medicare if you are currently enrolled in certain Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plans that cover such travel (see below) or travel insurance purchased privately or through a travel agent.

As seniors venture overseas whether for recreation or new living arrangements, a key question to ask is what benefits travel with them. While Social Security benefits follow Americans to other countries, basic Medicare likely will not and seniors may need to be prepared for alternate arrangements. There are some exceptions to coverage for inpatient hospital services in Canada or Mexico mostly for US residents who live nearby or are in transit to another portion of the US (Alaska for example) or on a cruise ship in US territorial waters. Medicare also does cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as US territories American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US, Virgin Islands. However, generally speaking, basic Medicare does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside these jurisdictions.

Some Medicare Advantage plans may come with worldwide travel benefits, although generally speaking Medicare Advantage plans do not travel well even when traveling to other locations inside the US Medicare Advantage plans are very specific regarding overall benefits and the details of the individual plan would need to be explored.

Some Medicare Supplement plans, also known as Medigap, can provide Foreign Travel Emergency Health Care for travel outside the United States. These are plans C, D, F, G, M and N which list coverage up to 80%. See chart at plans/medigap/basics/compare-plan-benefits. An explanation is contained at the same web address “What’s included in foreign travel emergency care ?” “When you travel outside the US most plans cover emergency health care, with a lifetime limit of $50,000. Plans may… cover foreign travel emergency care if it begins during the first 60 days of your trip, and if Medicare doesn’t otherwise cover the care… pay 80% of the billed charges for certain medically necessary emergency care outside the US after you meet a $250 deductible for the year… If you have plans E, H, I, and J that are no longer sold, they still cover foreign travel emergency care.”

Regardless of the coverage you may need to be prepared to submit claims for benefits with documentation on returning to the US

• Consider travel insurance. Medicare recipients who are traveling might also seriously consider buying a short-term travel insurance policy to cover health care expenses in other countries. Travel coverage could include evacuations such as when an accident or illness occurs on a cruise ship or in remote or difficult areas with limited access to health care.

One excellent source for information regarding health insurance for traveling and for living abroad as well is the US Department of State website, Bureau of Consular Affairs at You can check out the sections International Travel/Before You Go/Insurance. Also, under Your Health Abroad/Check Your Health Insurance — you may find Are You Covered Abroad? You can also check Another, obviously is your own insurance company or insurance agent.

Answers under the government site could be found for such questions as: What questions should I ask my health insurance company? Can the US overseas government help me if I become disabled? Where do I find a list of physicians abroad? What insurance information should I carry with me abroad? What are the current Travel Advisories? Also COVID-19 Country Specific Information, how to enroll in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest US embassy or consulate and how to locate safety and security messaging. Also information regarding US-based travel insurance companies.

In brief, if you are traveling or moving overseas, you should spend some time determining health insurance options. Don’t leave home without them.

Janet Colliton is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys. She limits her practice to elder law, life care, special needs and retirement planning, Medicaid, estate planning and estate administration and guardianships and is located at 790 East Market St., Ste. 250, West Chester, 610-436-6674, [email protected]. She is also, with Jeffrey Jones, CSA, co-founder of Life Transition Services LLC, a service for families with long term care needs.

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