How to travel south with a Medicare Advantage plan

Yes, there are special Medicare Advantage plans just for snowbirds! Make sure you’re covered before you take off.

Since I live in the Midwest, where “polar vortex” is actually a thing, I’ve always dreamed of spending the winters somewhere warm. I know a lot of Medicare members are in the same boat. Maybe you want to get away to the beach or the golf course, or just be closer to your grandkids. Wherever you want to go, it’s important to know if your health care needs are covered.

What is a Medicare Advantage travel benefit?

A lot of people choose to get their Medicare benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan. One of the benefits of this kind of plan is that you can save money on health care costs if you see doctors, clinics and hospitals that have agreed to provide plan members with health care services (called a network).

If you’re spending part of the year away from home, here are a few things to keep in mind:

    • With the most basic Medicare Advantage plans, you get emergency coverage when traveling outside of your network, if you’re traveling within the United States. That means you don’t have to worry about coverage if you get a sudden serious illness or break a bone while traveling.
  • If you need non-emergency care while traveling, it may not be covered and you’ll likely have to pay more out of pocket. That’s where a travel benefit can help.

With a travel benefit, you’ll pay almost the same for care out-of-state as you would close to home. The benefits and costs are different for every plan, so you’ll need to do your homework to figure out what’s best for you.

How does a travel benefit work?

Some travel benefits, such as those for international travel, are based on where you’re going. Others cover you for a certain time period — say December through April at your home-away-from-home.

So a benefit like this might get you the same services for roughly the same out-of-pocket costs you’d pay at home. It’s pretty common for your health plan to require that you be away from home for a few weeks or months before the benefit kicks in. That’s because perks like this are meant to cover longer stays instead of short vacations. And like we talked about, you’re always covered at network rates when you have an emergency while traveling.

Not all Medicare Advantage plans include a travel benefit. So if you’re like me and plan on traveling south every winter, you should look for a plan that offers one. Some are included in the price of your plan. Others are an option that you pay for only when you need it. Because every plan is different, contact your plan to learn more.

No matter where you’re headed, be safe, plan ahead, and don’t forget to pack your health insurance card. Happy travels!

Want to learn more about networks? Read “What is a health insurance network?”. 

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For more information on the differences between Medicare plans, visit medicare.gov