If your retirement planning includes traveling, especially outside of the United States, choose your Medicare plan carefully. Otherwise, if you are unfortunate enough to fall ill while on the road, you may not be fully covered.
The rules for Medicare Advantage plans differ depending on the carrier. Wellpoint, which sells both Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans, says people covered by Medicare Advantage HMO plans are almost always responsible for all costs of treatment if they travel outside their home networks -- and the network can be as small as the county. Those people who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) have a little more leeway, although out-of-network services will almost certainly cost more than those provided in the network.
There are exceptions. Some Medicare Advantage PPO plans have agreements with sister plans in other parts of the country, and there are a few plans that cover urgent and emergency care internationally.
Generally, if you are planning to travel in retirement, choosing original Medicare with a Medigap supplement is the safest route. Original Medicare allows you to go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, but it doesn't cover any health care you receive outside of the United States.
Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, M and N all offer some emergency care outside the U.S. After a yearly $250 deductible, these plans pay 80 percent of the cost of emergency care during the first 60 days of your trip. There is a $50,000 lifetime maximum.
Wellpoint points out that if you require hospital care, you can spend $50,000 rapidly, so it recommends that international travelers covered by any kind of Medicare also buy a travelers health insurance policy. These policies pick up where Medicare or other insurance leave off, including the cost of flying you and your hospital bed back home.