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Will Medicare cover me if I travel outside the United States?


 | Unfortunately, no. Medicare doesn’t pay for medical services outside the United States or its territories, unless: 

  • You experience a medical emergency while traveling between Alaska and another state and a Canadian hospital is closest to your location.

  • You face a medical emergency while you’re in the United States or one of its territories, but the nearest hospital is across the border, for example in Canada or Mexico. 

  • You live in the United States or one of its territories and need hospital care, regardless of whether it’s an emergency, but the nearest hospital is in a foreign country, which might be the case if you live in parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the closest hospital is in the British Virgin Islands.

  •  You need medical attention and you’re on a ship within six hours of a U.S. port.

Medicare covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as U.S. territories American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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What happens when Medicare does cover foreign travel?

In situations where Medicare covers care outside the United States, Medicare Part A kicks in for inpatient hospitalization. Medicare Part B covers emergency ambulance and doctor services immediately before and during your hospital stay. 

The same deductibles, copayments and coinsurance apply as they do for services covered here. But the coverage is limited: Medicare won’t pay for ambulance or doctor services in the foreign country after your covered hospital stay ends.

If you qualify, the foreign hospital may file a claim with Medicare, but it’s not required to do so. In that case, you may need to submit an itemized bill to Medicare. If you receive care on a cruise ship within six hours of a U.S. port, that doctor usually submits the Medicare claim.

Do Medicare supplement policies cover foreign travel?

If you buy a private Medicare supplement policy, better known as Medigap, you may have some coverage for foreign travel emergencies. Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, M and N cover emergency health care while you travel outside of the United States. Plans C and F are no longer available to new Medicare beneficiaries. Only people eligible for Medicare before 2020 can enroll in those two plans.

These Medigap plans cover foreign travel emergency care that begins in the first 60 days of your trip. They pay 80 percent of the billed charges for certain medically necessary emergency care outside the United States, but first you pay a $250 deductible for the year. The Medigap foreign travel emergency coverage has a lifetime limit of $50,000.

What other foreign travel emergency coverage is available?

Other policies provide some coverage for foreign travel emergencies:

Medicare Advantage. Some private Medicare Advantage plans cover foreign travel emergency care, but the coverage limits and details vary. Find out more about the Medicare Advantage plans available in your area by using the Medicare Plan Finder.

Travel insurance. While some travel insurance policies cover trip cancellations, others also cover emergency medical care in a foreign country and medical evacuation to a nearby medical facility or back to the United States for care. However, some travel insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions, so find out about exclusions, coverage limits and other details before choosing a policy.

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Tricare for Life. If you’re a military retiree, you may have foreign-country health care coverage through Tricare for Life after you enroll in Medicare. Tricare for Life typically covers Medicare’s deductibles, copayments and coinsurance, but it also provides some additional benefits, such as health care outside of the United States. It provides the same foreign travel coverage under Tricare that military retirees and dependents have before enrolling in Medicare. You pay any deductibles and copayments for that coverage.

Keep in mind

If you plan to live abroad or travel back and forth regularly, rather than just vacation out of the country, you can enroll in Medicare. But you’ll forgo coverage while you’re away and still have to pay the monthly Part B premiums, typically $164.90 a month in 2023. You'll also have to pay Part A premiums if you or your spouse haven’t paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years.

If you decide to wait to enroll in Medicare until after you return to the United States, you may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty. Americans working abroad who receive health insurance from their employers, live in a country with a national health system or do volunteer work and have health coverage through their sponsor organization have some exemptions.

In these circumstances, you’re eligible for an eight-month special enrollment period (SEP) after you stop working or lose your insurance, six months if you’re volunteering. Do your homework before making any decisions about your coverage before your departure.

Updated July 14, 2023

 

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