You've retired! Now you might be gearing up for that quiet two weeks on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, an eco-lodge in Costa Rica, or your family reunion at a theme park of your choice.
But in making your travel plans, don't forget about medical coverage: Here's the scoop on Original Medicare, Medigap, and Medicare Advantage, and how they work for those who don't want to stay at home.
Introduction to Medicare
"Original" Medicare is just Medicare Parts A and B. Part A covers big-ticket items, like skilled nursing, hospital stays, or home care, while Part B provides for medically necessary services and preventive care. Of course, this doesn't mean that all of those things are free.
Generally speaking, in addition to the Part B premium, which depends on your income, you'll pay 20% of the cost of outpatient treatments and up to $1,260 for a hospital stay. Prescription drugs also aren't covered.
Those costs mean that you'll probably want to look into a Medigap plan or a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medigap versus Medicare Advantage
Medigap is a supplement to Original Medicare. That is, in addition to Parts A and B you can purchase one of a number of standardized plans that provide for different types of coverage.
While these plans are standardized across insurers, the costs are not. Your age and health are factors, as is the particular provider -- in other words, make sure to compare quotes before making a decision.
Medicare Advantage replaces traditional Medicare with a whole new policy that covers at least as much as A and B plus a basket of various other services. These policies are all different, so you can tailor your level of coverage to your particular needs.
Original Medicare will cover you in the U.S. and its territories, so if you're off to visit your kids in another state or on a vacation to the Virgin Islands, you won't need to get additional coverage.
On the other hand, your Medicare Advantage plan might not offer this kind of extensive coverage. Many Medicare Advantage plans require you to use in-network providers, so if you're traveling outside the network, you may need to cover a fee or pay for the service all-out. h
Thus, if you travel a lot domestically, you might want to look specifically for Medicare Advantage plans that allow for travel coverage, or consider Medigap insurance, which is designed to help fill in "gaps" in Medicare Part A and B.
Original Medicare won't provide you with coverage abroad, except in certain very rare circumstances -- for example, if you live near the border of Mexico or Canada and the nearest hospital to you is on the other side, or if you're on a cruise ship in American territorial waters.
The Medigap C, D, F, G, M, and N plans do provide for emergency travel coverage abroad, with a few caveats. You'll still need to pay 20% of the cost, the coverage lasts only for the first 60 days of the trip, and you have to meet an annual $250 deductible first. There's also a lifetime maximum benefit of $50,000, so you'd need to cover any costs above that amount.
When it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, your coverage really depends on the plan. Some plans offer emergency coverage while others don't, which is why you need to take a close look at each plan's benefits before making a decision. This is particularly important if you plan on traveling often.