World Travelers: Check Your Medicare Coverage Before You Go

Why It Matters:

  • You can take steps to limit the impact of having to seek emergency care overseas.
  • Check your health coverage before a big trip so you know the financial impacts if you have a medical emergency far from home.
  • Original Medicare coverage generally doesn’t extend beyond the U.S.

Chase Squires tkc.profilePicture Written by: Chase Squires | Transamerica
Oct. 12, 2017

1 Min readClock Icon

Before you take off for that 21-day Mediterranean cruise or epic hike in the Andes, there’s an important question you’ll want to consider: What are you doing for health insurance?

If you’re enrolled in Original Medicare, generally speaking the coverage is no good six hours out of port. From there on, any emergency care could come out of your pocket for a bill of potentially thousands of dollars.

“People make some very broad assumptions about their insurance,” said Chris Abbott, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare business in Texas and Oklahoma. “In a sense, Medicare ends at the beach.”

Even if you’re not on Medicare and have other health insurance, it makes sense to talk with your insurance agent about coverage.

You may be able to buy extra coverage to cover emergencies while abroad, but solutions must be purchased in advance. They also may have restrictions, exclusions, and limits on how long of a trip you can take.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information for travelers, including a section on health care abroad and the TravWell app for iOS and Android devices. The U.S. State Department has an online section devoted to getting medical help abroad and offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that can help an embassy locate you in an emergency and provide you with travel alerts.

Check out the “Things to Consider” below for other tips.

Things to Consider:

  • Understand the limits of your insurance when you’re traveling, especially outside the U.S.
  • You may be able to buy extra coverage. Just be sure to read the fine print.
  • Even if you have coverage, foreign hospitals may bill you instead of billing your carrier directly. Consider carrying a credit card with a beefy limit for use in a medical emergency.
  • If you pay for covered care while abroad, obtain clear, itemized copies of all bills and discharge notes that you can submit to your insurer for reimbursement.
  • Because insurance might not cover prescriptions abroad, either order a supply before travel, or consider arranging for a resupply to be sent to a trusted person who can forward it to you.
  • For travel to remote areas, consider getting insurance with medical evacuation coverage If you have to pay for a medevac on your own, it could cost at least $50,000.

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