The best Medicare plans for retirees who plan to travel will vary depending on your destinations. But, before you book a trip make sure you know the current CDC COVID-19 travel recommendations and research your destinations too so you can know if restrictions apply wherever you are going.
Before we dissect how Medicare works for travelers, let’s start with a quick review of your different Medicare options.
One option is original Medicare, which covers (Part A) hospital services and (Part B) doctor’s visits and other medical services.
If you choose original Medicare, you may also want to get a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan (if you don’t already have coverage) to cover your medications, and a Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policy to help pay for things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.
Or, you could get a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan instead, which is sold through private insurance companies, and covers everything original Medicare covers, plus many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and extra services like vision, hearing, and dental care all in one plan.
To help you evaluate your options contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program which provides free Medicare counseling.
You can also shop and compare Medicare health and drug plans and Medigap policies.
Also note that whatever Medicare plans you choose to enroll in, if you find that they are not meeting your needs or your needs change, you can always switch to a different plan during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
If you are planning to travel domestically, original Medicare may be the better option because it provides coverage everywhere in the U.S. and its territories as long as the doctor or hospital accepts Medicare.
Medicare Advantage plans, on the other hand, which have become very popular among new enrollees may restrict your coverage when traveling throughout the U.S. This is because most Medicare Advantage plans are HMOs or PPOs and require you to use doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are in the plan’s network within a service area or geographic region. So, if you’re traveling outside that area you may need to pay a higher fee, or your services may not be covered at all.
If you do decide to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure you check the benefit details carefully to see what costs and rules apply when traveling outside your service area.
If you’re planning to travel abroad much, a Medicare Advantage plan may be a better option because many Advantage plans today offer emergency care coverage outside the U.S. But be sure you check before you choose a plan because not all plans offer it.
Original Medicare, on the other hand does not provide coverage outside the U.S. and its territories except in rare circumstances and Medicare drug plans will not cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S. either.
But if you do choose original Medicare, you can still get some coverage abroad through a Medigap policy. Plans D, G, M and N plans will pay for 80 percent of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. to new enrollees, but only for the first 60 days of the trip, and you must meet an annual $250 deductible first. There is also a lifetime limit of $50,000, so you’d need to cover any costs above that amount.
Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.