Medicare Travel Coverage

It is rare to be in a situation where you might receive travel coverage under Medicare. When you are traveling abroad, medical emergencies or problems that you sustain will generally not be covered under Medicare. Instead, it is recommended that you purchase supplemental travelers' insurance to cover you in the event of a medical issue requiring immediate help. Some travelers' insurance can even cover the costs of returning you to the United States under emergency conditions, although this is very expensive.

However, there are some scenarios where emergency services in a foreign country will be partially covered under your Original Medicare Part A expenses. It is also possible for you to receive emergency medical transport coverage through a Medicare Part C program that offers supplemental insurance for these situations.

Note that neither Medicare Part D plans nor Medigap insurance will help you to extend your travel coverage. If you are frequently abroad and require some travel coverage, you are most likely to find it under a Medicare Part C plan.

What Medicare Travel Coverage is Available?

Medicare travel coverage can kick in over limited distances and almost always applies to situations where you can be returned to the U.S. in the course of the emergency -- you are almost never covered when an emergency takes place outside of the United States.

Here are the situations where travel coverage will become available to you within the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii:

  • You suffer a medical emergency in the United States, but a Canadian or Mexican hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. facility. Under these conditions, you may be rushed to the closest facility based on the immediacy of your need. Services you receive in this hospital may be covered if it is found that this was your only viable option.
  • After departing the state of Alaska, you are in transit through Canada and en route to the United States when a medical emergency happens suddenly. You may be covered for emergency transit and services in Canada if a Canadian hospital is nearest and is best able to treat you versus the closest hospital in Alaska or elsewhere in the United States.
  • You live anywhere in a border region of the United States. If you have a condition that can only be treated by a hospital in Canada or Mexico, you may receive coverage. Note that this coverage is no longer included if you move your residence from the U.S. side of the border to the Canadian or Mexican side of same. You will also lose this coverage if you move away from the border region and are better served by a U.S. hospital.

Generally speaking, you are much more likely to receive Medicare benefits that apply to a Canadian hospital visit than a Mexican hospital visit. Certain inpatient services in a Canadian medical facility may be covered by Medicare under domestic rules.

What Unusual Situations May Allow Medicare Travel Coverage?

If you have boarded a cruise ship and are at a U.S. port or no more than six hours from the nearest U.S. port, medical services you receive on the ship might be covered under the domestic Medicare rules.

This is only possible if the doctor providing you care would be permitted to offer the same care under applicable U.S. laws on shore. If you receive emergency service from a shipboard physician and are admitted to a U.S. or foreign hospital no more than twenty-four hours later, you may also be covered.

If you suffer a medical emergency aboard a U.S.-based airline carrier in the airspace of the United States and are admitted to a hospital or other medical facility after an emergency landing, you may also be eligible for coverage under the Medicare Part A standards. This is true even if you are admitted into a hospital not in your state of residence or not in the state where your flight took off.

The availability of Medicare is completely based on your proximity to the United States. There is no possibility of Medicare travel coverage once you have left the border regions adjoining the United States, its immediate coastal waters, or its airspace. If you plan to travel abroad, you should be careful to ensure proper supplemental coverage, usually through a private insurance agency.

Private agencies can usually offer travel insurance that is in force for the duration of your visit abroad. Cost is pegged to the length of your visit. In extreme cases, these agencies may also cover the cost of emergency transit from your foreign location back to the United States.

Where Else is Medicare Travel Coverage Possible?

Although no international coverage of any kind is possible outside North America, Medicare recipients should bear in mind that Medicare is enforced all throughout the dependencies and territories of the United States.

These territories include all fifty states, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Marinara Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you encounter a medical emergency while en route to any of these places, you may be covered under Medicare depending on where you are treated.