Trouble at the border: Travel insurance options for Medicare recipients

By Patricia Grace

Aging with Grace


Are you aware that Medicare stops at the border, except in limited circumstances? The exposure to financial harm is high for anyone traveling outside the United States, especially for seniors who are on Medicare.

If you have a Medicare supplement, there is some relief for emergency medical care, but that, too, has limits — you can very easily exceed the limit, causing you to dip into your retirement savings.

The lifetime maximum on Medicare supplement policies for foreign travel coverage outside the United States is $50,000. And exceeding this amount is easy when traveling.

Without travel medical insurance, you are required to pay for services at the time you receive them. But, if you have travel medical insurance, those issues are handled by the travel insurance company, not you. A call to the customer service line of your insurance company begins the payment process.

When people think of travel insurance, they typically associate it with travel delays and baggage problems. Admittedly, cancelled flights and lost baggage are inconveniences that travelers have no control over, but one thing you can control is having the security of knowing that if you need medical care outside the country, you can be properly covered.

Here are some questions that need to be answered. Who should I buy it from: the tour operator, the travel agent or a travel insurance specialist? What type of travel insurance coverage should I buy: medical evacuation, travel medical or trip cancellation? When is the best time to buy travel insurance?

Buying travel insurance
Most tour operators and travel agents do not hold the proper insurance licenses to offer all types of travel insurance, so they are limited in their offerings. Keep that point in mind when you are being asked to purchase travel insurance.

When booking any travel, ask if travel insurance is already included in the rate. Ask for an outline of coverage, and certainly ask about the medical insurance portion of the policy, if any. If it’s not what you want, then you must opt out of the program.

What type of travel insurance is right for Medicare recipients?
We have examined many travel insurance programs, and with our 20 years of insurance experience, our recommendation for traveling seniors is to purchase an international medical travel insurance policy with a trip cancellation/interruption rider.

This type of policy will give you the protection on both sides of the potential problem areas — international medical care, travel delays/interruptions, lost luggage, etc.

When to purchase travel insurance?
The best time to buy travel insurance is between one and 14 days before putting down the initial deposit on your trip. This will normally qualify you for coverage for any pre-existing medical conditions, especially for Medicare recipients.