Does Medicare Cover Foreign Travel? 

Travel outside the United States is a popular retirement goal for seniors. Many seniors enjoy exploring other countries, cultures and customs in their golden years. You may choose to see the world from the deck of a cruise ship or you may be ready to jet off to new and exciting locations by plane. Seniors enjoy having the time in retirement to explore the world and meet new people.

One of the most pressing concerns regarding foreign travel as a retiree is how healthcare will be managed while away from home. Different countries have varying standards when providing medical care. Medical emergencies are always possible when traveling abroad. Tens of millions of seniors in the United States rely on Medicare benefits to cover medical care at home. How does Medicare coverage work when traveling outside of the United States?

How does Medicare cover care while you’re traveling abroad?

As a domestic health insurance program, Original Medicare does not cover medical care administered in foreign countries. Therefore, if you travel outside of the United States, you will be responsible for the cost of any healthcare services you receive while traveling. However, Medicare benefits can be used across the entire United States as long as you visit providers who accept assignment.

Exceptions to the rule

Even though Medicare benefits can only be used inside the United States, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Because Alaska is a part of the United States but is separated from the mainland by Canada, Medicare coverage may pay for your care in Canada if you are traveling through the country to Alaska from the mainland.

Your travel must be considered “without reasonable delay” for Medicare benefits to be utilized. This means you cannot travel to Canada to visit friends on the way to Alaska and expect Medicare coverage to apply. Instead, you must travel directly to Alaska through Canada to take advantage of Medicare coverage in a medical emergency.

The other exception to Medicare’s standard rule of domestic-only coverage is if a foreign hospital is closer to a United States hospital. To utilize this exception, you must be within the United States. For example, if you are within the United States but on the border with Mexico and a Mexican hospital is closer to you than a U.S. hospital, Medicare coverage will apply to care in the Mexican hospital. Likewise, if you live on the U.S. side of the Canadian border and a Canadian hospital is closer to you than a United States-based hospital, Medicare coverage will pay for care in the Canadian hospital.

Does Medicare cover care on a cruise ship?

If you are on a cruise ship and require medical care in a foreign country, Medicare benefits will apply toward the cost of care onboard the ship as long as the ship is within six hours of a United States port. The doctor administering care must also be authorized to perform medical care on the cruise ship. If your cruise is more than six hours away from a U.S. port when medical services are rendered, you will be responsible for the cost of care.

Medigap and medical care in foreign countries

Although Original Medicare does not provide a direct benefit for medical care while traveling in another country, some Medigap plans offer a benefit for this type of care. Medigap, also known as Medicare Supplement insurance, helps to fill in the gaps where Original Medicare does not supply coverage. To learn more, you’re encouraged to work with a Medicare insurance broker to discuss your needs and options.

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