If foreign travel is on your retirement bucket list, a world of wonders awaits. But if a health crisis arises while you are out of the country, you could face a world of worries.
"Medicare, as well as the private health insurance companies, do not provide any significant support for people traveling overseas," says Dr. William Brady, medical director for travel insurer Allianz Global Assistance.
In fact, traditional Medicare does not reimburse recipients for hospital bills and doctors' fees incurred outside the United States except in rare cases. (Coverage does extend to U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.) Some Medigap plans include health coverage outside the United States, but there are usually high deductibles, copays and limits.
Brady, who is also a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia, notes that travelers could face steep costs in addition to whatever the hospitals and doctors charge. He cites the example of an older adult who suffers a stroke while at a resort. "He is in an area of the world that is beautiful and highly tourist-focused but has a medical system that is rudimentary." In this case, the man will have to be evacuated to a medical facility that could stabilize him and treat the stroke. "It could be across an international border, it could be 1,000 miles away," Brady says. But the costs don't stop there. "How do you get him back home? That can be financially devastating." The costs of the evacuation and subsequent return to the United States could easily hit $100,000 or higher, especially if you need medical services or nursing care during the trip home.
Most travel insurance policies will cover the costs of evacuation and repatriation back to the U.S. as well as hospital and doctors' charges. The costs of the policy vary, based on where you're going, your age, whether you have any pre-existing conditions and the amount of protection you want.
In case of a medical emergency, travel insurance companies can recommend hospitals that meet high standards of care. "Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, there are services that don't always put the betterment of the patient as the primary issue," Brady says.
For more information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Medigap policies and travel, go to nwsdy.li/travelmedigap. The State Department has information on health and foreign travel at nwsdy.li/healthdos and a list of travel insurance companies at nwsdy.li/companiesdos.