Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are recently retired and would like to do some traveling both in the United States and abroad, but worry about health issues, such as insurance, finding a good hospital if we get sick, etc. What tips can you offer health conscious seniors who want to travel?
A dream vacation can turn into a real nightmare if you get sick or injured while you’re away and aren’t prepared. Before setting out, here are some simple steps to help ensure a safe and healthy trip.
Talk to your doctor: If you have a medical condition or health concerns, a good first step is to talk with your doctor now about what precautions you need to take before traveling. You should also have your doctor’s contact information with you when you travel, as well as a list of your medical conditions and the medications you’re taking in case you need emergency medical care while you’re away.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., you need to find out the health conditions of the country you’re visiting and what, if any, vaccinations and/or preventative medications are recommended. See CDC.gov/travel or call 800-232-4636 to get this information.
Check your insurance: If you have health insurance or a Medicare Advantage plan through an HMO or PPO that covers in-network doctors only, check your plan to find out what’s covered if you need medical care when traveling outside your geographic area.
Beneficiaries that have original Medicare are covered everywhere in the U.S. But if you’re traveling abroad, you need to know that original Medicare does not cover medical expenses beyond the border except in rare circumstances, although some Medicare Advantage plans and some Medigap supplemental policies do. And, many private health plans don’t pay health care costs outside the U.S. either. Be sure to check.
If you need coverage when traveling abroad, get a comprehensive travel medical insurance policy that covers medical care, medical evacuation and trip cancellation coverage. See InsureMyTrip.com and SquareMouth.com to shop and compare policies.
Locate health care: Before your trip, find out what health and urgent care facilities are near the areas you’re visiting. Your hotel can help you with this, or see UrgentCareLocations.com or USHospitalFinder.com for U.S. facilities.
If you’re traveling abroad, the U.S. consulate or embassy in the countries you’re visiting (go to step.state.gov to enroll your trip) is a good place to get a referral. Or join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT.org), which provides its members access to a worldwide network of physicians who speak English and have agreed to affordable prearranged fees. Membership is free.
Pack your meds: Make sure you have a sufficient supply of medications to last the entire trip.
If traveling by air, you need to pack your medicine in your carry-on bag, so if your checked luggage gets lost or misdirected you won’t be without. It’s best to keep your medications in their original containers to get through airport security without delays. It’s also a good idea to bring along a note from your doctor that explains why you take these medications, especially if syringes or other medical supplies are involved.
For airport security requirements visit TSA.gov – click on “Disabilities and Medical Conditions.” You can also call TSA Cares at 855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.
Seek mobility aids: If mobility is an issue and you’re flying to your destination, call your airline before you leave and ask them to supply you a wheelchair to use while you’re in the airport. And when booking hotel reservations, ask for an accessible room that accommodates wheelchairs and walkers.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.