By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the best Medicare coverage options for COVID-19 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. But before you book a trip make sure you know the current CDC COVID-19 travel recommendations (see CDC.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers), and research your destinations too so you can know if restrictions apply wherever you’re 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 (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.
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 and your husband 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 (see Medicare.gov/coverage/travel), 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% of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. to new enrollees, but only for the first 60 days of the trip, and you have to meet an annual $250 deductible first. There’s also a lifetime limit of $50,000, so you’d need to cover any costs above that amount.
Some beneficiaries, regardless of their Medicare coverage, purchase travel medical insurance for trips abroad, which you can shop for at InsureMyTrip.com or SquareMouth.com.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.