Advertisement
retirement

Going Abroad? Check Your Health Coverage

Before you pack your bags and jet off around the world, learn what your health insurance covers in case of a medical emergency abroad.

With the world as their oyster, many retirees take the opportunity to travel far and wide. But before you go, review your medical coverage. Medicare beneficiaries who have a health emergency outside the U.S. could be in for a big surprise.

Retired Kiplinger editor Ken Dalecki, 74, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, didn’t have emergency surgery penciled in on his itinerary on a 2016 trip to Asuncion, Paraguay. But soon after arriving, Dalecki noticed a black area in his right eye. And it was growing.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Online research indicated his retina might be detaching, and that it had to be dealt with right away. “Otherwise, you could go blind,” he says.

Dalecki called the U.S. embassy and got contact information for a local hospital. “It’s something anyone ought to do,” he says. His hotel helped set up the first appointment. Via Skype, Dalecki confirmed that Medicare wouldn’t cover emergency care in Paraguay.

Dalecki was lucky. “Everything worked out fine,” he says. The outcome of the surgery was successful, and the cost was relatively cheap—about $3,300. The cost would have been higher in the States, but Dalecki says Medicare would have lowered his out-of-pocket costs.

As Dalecki confirmed, traditional Medicare typically doesn’t cover health care outside the U.S. and its territories. But Medigap supplemental insurance plans C, D, F, G, M and N do cover foreign emergency health care. Plans E, H, I and J are no longer sold, but people who still own those policies have foreign coverage, too. These Medigap plans pay 80% of the costs for medically necessary foreign emergency care (post-deductible); the lifetime limit for foreign care is $50,000.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Medicare Advantage beneficiaries may run into coverage issues while traveling abroad—and even stateside. Advantage plans generally have limited service networks, and traveling outside your local area can throw you out of network, making needed care costlier.

Shop for Travel Insurance

To ensure you have health coverage, consider buying travel insurance before you take off. You can buy a stand-alone travel medical policy, but comprehensive travel insurance that includes medical coverage may give you more bang for your buck.

“You may buy the policy for medical coverage, but may use it for something else,” says Carol Mueller, vice president of marketing for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. A policy with trip cancellation protects you if you must cancel before departure, while a policy with trip interruption helps cover costs if you have to return home early.

“Comprehensive policies are more expensive, but you are better protected,” says Lynne Peters, product director for InsureMyTrip.com. Typically, comprehensive policies cost 6% to 8% of travel costs; buy enough insurance to cover all your prepaid costs.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The premium is also dependent on your age and length of your trip. Older travellers pay more, says Mueller, up to 10% to 11% of trip costs.

Typically, if you buy a policy within 10 to 14 days of your first trip payment, preexisting conditions will be covered. Read the fine print, including medical coverage limits. Look for medical evacuation coverage, which will cover a special flight home or a traveling nurse to accompany you on a commercial flight home.

Travel insurance can make sense for cruises, which require big upfront payments. Traditional Medicare may cover medically necessary services on board a ship within the territorial waters adjoining the land areas of the U.S., but it won’t pay for services on a ship that is more than six hours away from a U.S. port.

Medical evacuation coverage could come in handy. “Cruises are notorious for putting ill passengers off at the nearest port,” says Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Global Assistance, and “that port may not have good facilities.” An air ambulance to an appropriate facility or back home could cost $20,000 or more if the destination is close, he says, and 10 times that if coming from as far as Asia.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

18 Things You Can't Return to Amazon
Smart Buying

18 Things You Can't Return to Amazon

Before tossing these items into your virtual shopping cart, be sure to read Amazon's return policy first.
September 17, 2020
Insurance for Long-Term Care at Home
retirement

Insurance for Long-Term Care at Home

In the wake of COVID-wracked nursing homes, increasingly more people are looking at options to age in place with long-term care insurance.
September 17, 2020
Election 2020: Joe Biden's Tax Plans
taxes

Election 2020: Joe Biden's Tax Plans

With the economy in trouble, tax policy takes on added importance in the 2020 presidential election. So, let's take a look at what Joe Biden has said …
September 18, 2020

Recommended

3 Tips to Help You Navigate Open Enrollment in Your ‘New Normal’
health insurance

3 Tips to Help You Navigate Open Enrollment in Your ‘New Normal’

With all the changes going on in workplaces across the country since COVID-19, your insurance and benefits needs might have changed, too.
September 15, 2020
This Year’s Benefits Open Enrollment Period Is an Opportunity You Don’t Want to Miss
health insurance

This Year’s Benefits Open Enrollment Period Is an Opportunity You Don’t Want to Miss

Plan ahead to do a deep dive into the benefits your employer offers. Given what we’ve been through so far in 2020, you may need them!
September 9, 2020
Retiree Health Care Costs Are Rising
Healthy Living on a Budget

Retiree Health Care Costs Are Rising

Factors driving the increase include longer life spans, health care inflation and health bills for those who retire before they’re eligible for Medica…
August 18, 2020
HSAs Get Even Better
Financial Planning

HSAs Get Even Better

A health savings account is a powerful, tax-advantaged tool to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses and a smart way to save for medical expenses in re…
July 3, 2020