Over the years, I have found misinformation abounds regarding Medicare coverage for health care services abroad - not all medical travelers have the time to inform themselves or don’t know where to look for information, hospitals abroad don’t know the rules or utilize Medicare as a marketing tool to attract medical travelers, particularly, if it’s a destination attractive to American baby boomers.

As I have toured hospitals, met with hospital administrators, physicians and government officials, and visited with American medical travelers and expatriates living in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, Mexico, and other countries, the same question has been asked – “Does Medicare cover health care services for American medical travelers and expatriates?”

A misconception exists about the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), i.e. Medicare, and whether CMS will cover health care services abroad. Medicare covers health care services only in limited circumstances (See below and link attached.) The most important caveat I have found holds true – if the hospital or clinic’s staff tell you a portion of your bill is covered by Medicare, unless the healthcare facility is along the U.S. border, the information is incorrect.

Current U.S. government policy passes 100% of the cost of health care services abroad to the American patient. Furthermore, emergency coverage is very limited and in the rare case, only if the foreign hospital is closer than a U.S. hospital along the border. Any American contemplating medical travel for elective health care services or a move abroad whether to Mexico or elsewhere should purchase international health insurance or plan to pay out-of-pocket. For an American expat living in Mexico or elsewhere, obtaining health care services may be a bargain with 40-60% savings and may not require health insurance coverage unless a non-elective major medical or surgical procedure is necessary.

Word to the wise – obtain international health insurance, if you’re living abroad; otherwise, it may be more affordable to pay out-of-pocket for an elective procedure abroad, but know in advance Medicare won’t cover the cost of those health care services.

Until next time, Rosanna Moreno

Medicare Link: https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/travel-need-health-care-outside-us.html

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