One of the concerns for travelers enrolled in Medicare is coverage while abroad. Unlike some private medical insurance plans, Original Medicare coverage is confined within the United States borders. Though Medicare Advantage plans offer Medicare benefits beyond the traditional program, care while traveling out of the country is not typically part of the offering.
There are a few exceptions to the U.S boundary rule. Medicare recipients on a cruise may be covered for medically necessary services if the physician is permitted under specific laws to provide medical services on the ship. When the healthcare service is provided, the ship must be either docked in a U.S. port or no greater than six hours away from a U.S. port. This stands whether or not the care is of an emergency nature.
Medigap Policies May Cover Travel
People whose lifestyle includes travel may gravitate toward Medicare Supplement, or Medigap, policies. Medigap, the term for supplemental plans that enhance Original Medicare coverage, addresses the need for foreign travel care in six of the ten current supplement plans. Effective January 1, 2020, this will be pared down to four of eight plans. At that point, Plans C and F will phase out. The remaining plans that cover travel will be D, G, M and N. Medicare recipients already enrolled in Plans C and F will be able to retain these plans.
If you are enrolled in a supplement plan that has travel benefits, it will cover foreign emergency care if the care starts within the first 60 days of your voyage, assuming Medicare does not cover the care through some other provision. The 2019 deductible is currently $250. After the deductible is met, the plan pays 80% of the charges billed for specific, medically-necessary emergency care. A lifetime cap of $50,000 is applied for foreign travel emergency coverage.
Selecting a Medicare Supplement Plan
Medigap policies are available only through private insurance carriers, and the monthly premium due to the company is in addition to premiums paid to Medicare. The private insurance companies selling supplement plans are required to provide a standardized policy. For example, Plan D in one state must include at least the identical basic benefit as Plan D in another state. Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin are aligned differently. What the insurance carrier is not required to do is offer every Medigap plan in the suite, so the first step is identifying the plans available where you live.
Illness on Cruises
Medical needs on cruises have been a focus of attention due to reports of illness on board that impact a massive number of passengers. Bacteria can spread quickly in this shared space. Along with checking your Medicare benefits, be prepared with ways to protect yourself from falling ill. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises travelers to stay current on routine vaccinations, such as measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), varicella and influenza. Also, mitigate the chances of exposure to the norovirus by frequently and thoroughly washing hands with soap and water. Of course, this is always a good habit before eating and after bathroom use. But on a cruise, remember to wash even after touching stair railings.
Some people do not wish to be driven to a policy based solely on travel coverage. There are companies that sell travel insurance that includes medical care and evacuation coverage. Before your next excursion, visit the CDC website for links to organizations that offer information on purchasing this type of insurance.