Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the best Medicare coverage options for retirees who travel a lot?
The best Medicare options for retirees who travel extensively depends on your destination.
Let's start with a quick review of the different coverage choices Medicare offers beneficiaries today.
One option is Original Medicare, which has been around since 1966, and covers (Part A) hospital services and (Part B) doctor's visits and other medical services.
If you choose Original Medicare, you may also want to get a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan (if you don't already have coverage) to cover your medication costs, and a Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policy to help pay for things that aren't covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.
Or, you could get Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, which is sold through private insurance companies, that covers everything Original Medicare covers, plus many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and extra services like vision, hearing and dental care all in one plan.
To help you evaluate your options, the National Council on Aging offers an online tool at MyMedicareMatters.org, and your State Heath Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free Medicare counseling; call 800-677-1116 for contact information.
You can also shop and compare Medicare health and drug plans and Medigap policies at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan, or call 800-633-4227.
Also note that whatever Medicare plans you choose to enroll in, if you find that they are not meeting your needs or your needs change, you can always switch to a different plan during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
If you and your husband are planning to travel domestically, Original Medicare provides coverage everywhere in the U.S. and its territories (this includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa) as long as the doctor or hospital accepts Medicare.
But, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your coverage may be restricted. This is because most Medicare Advantage plans (which are usually HMOs or PPOs) require you to use doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are in the plan's network within a service area or geographic region. So if you're traveling outside that area, you may need to pay a higher fee, or your services may not be covered at all.
Before enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, check the benefit details carefully to see what costs and rules apply when traveling outside your service area.
If you're planning to travel abroad, Original Medicare does not provide coverage outside the U.S. including cruising, except in rare cases, and Medicare drug plans will not cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S. either.
But, there are some Medigap policies that do provide limited coverage abroad. Medigap C, D, F, G, M, and N plans will pay for 80 percent of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S., but 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.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your coverage outside the U.S. will depend on the plan. Some plans offer emergency care coverage while others don't. You'll need to check your plan for details.
If you want additional emergency medical coverage when traveling abroad, some good shopping sites are http://squaremouth.com and http://insuremytrip.com, which compare policies from major travel-insurance companies. Prices vary considerably, ranging from under $100 to several hundred dollars depending on your age, what they cover and how long you'll be away.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit http://SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.