Center For Medicare Portability

“Kathleen, my question is intended for Matthew Downs, President of the Center for Medicare Portability that you wrote about recently.

“Matthew, it is my understanding the Medicare Part F provides overseas care. This is what I was told by United Heathcare on Friday. Please correct this information if it is incorrect.”

–Ariana V., United States

Matthew Downs, President of the Center for Medicare Portability, replies:

Thank you very much for the question. The information you received is correct but does not tell the whole story.

Medicare Supplemental Policies (Medigap), to which you refer as Medicare Part F, are not Medicare plans. They are plans offered by private companies that are in addition to basic Medicare coverage. Some of those Medigap plans cover foreign travel emergency care.

But there are some important restrictions on this coverage. First, the care must be “medically necessary emergency care” for an injury or illness that is “of sudden or unexpected onset.” This excludes many conditions.

Second, to be covered, the care must begin during the first 60 days of each trip outside the United States. Care for a condition that developed after those 60 days is not covered.

Third, this policy is just for travelers. It excludes from coverage Americans who reside in another country.

Finally, you are not eligible for a Medigap policy if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan.

Because of these restrictions, Medigap coverage is attractive only to higher income Americans traveling for short periods. Those American retirees who wish to live abroad at least part time receive little if any coverage and in any event must pay twice for it–first for the Part B (and maybe Part A) premiums in order to continue coverage upon return to the United States and then for an extra policy that may cover them abroad. This is unfair to retirees and also creates a disincentive to seeking lower cost health care that would benefit both the retiree and the Medicare system.

If Medicare were portable, these two problems would dissolve.

I hope this answers your question and explains our position. Please feel free to contact me if you have other questions.

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