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Friday May 20, 2022

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Medicare Coverage Options for Retirees Eager to Travel

What are the best Medicare coverage options for COVID-vaccinated retirees who are eager to travel? My wife and I will both turn 65 over the next few months and would like to know which Medicare plans are best for extensive travelers.

The best Medicare plans for retirees who plan to travel will vary depending on your destinations. Before you book a trip, make sure you know the current CDC COVID-19 travel recommendations (see CDC.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers). Research your destinations so you know what restrictions apply wherever you are going.

Medicare Review

Before we dissect how Medicare works for travelers, let us start with a quick review of your different Medicare options.

One option is original Medicare, which covers hospital services under Part A and doctor's visits and other medical services under Part B.

If you choose original Medicare, you may also want to get a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) to cover your medications. A Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policy may help pay for things that are not covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

You may want to consider a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan instead, which is sold through private insurance companies. Part C covers everything original Medicare covers, plus many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and extra services like vision, hearing and dental care.

To help evaluate your options, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (see ShiptaCenter.org), which provides free Medicare counseling.

You can also shop and compare Medicare health and drug plans and Medigap policies at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan.

If you find the Medicare plan you enroll in is not meeting your needs or your needs change, you can switch to a different plan during the open enrollment period from October 15 to December 7.

U.S. Travel

If you and your wife are planning to travel domestically, original Medicare may be the better option for you. Original Medicare provides coverage everywhere in the U.S. and its territories as long as the doctor or hospital you visit accepts Medicare.

Medicare Advantage plans, on the other hand, have become very popular among new enrollees and 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 visit doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are in the plan's network. These plans may have some restrictions within a service area or geographic region. If you are 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 to check the benefit details carefully to see what costs and rules apply when traveling outside your service area.

Traveling Abroad

If you are planning to travel abroad on a regular basis, a Medicare Advantage plan may be a better option. Many Advantage plans today offer emergency care coverage outside the U.S. Be sure to 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 (see Medicare.gov/coverage/travel). Medicare drug plans will not cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S.

If you choose original Medicare, you can still get some coverage abroad through a Medigap policy. Plans D, G, M and N may pay for 80% of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. to new enrollees, but coverage is only for the first 60 days of the trip and you must first meet an annual $250 deductible. There is also a lifetime limit of $50,000, so you would need to cover any costs above that amount.

Some individuals, regardless of their Medicare coverage, purchase travel medical insurance for trips abroad, which you can shop for online. Check for exclusions prior to purchasing travel specific insurance.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published May 14, 2021
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