Page Reviewed / Updated - August 11, 2020
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all Medicare Advantage plan for snowbirds. Those who plan on traveling for extended periods of time must find a plan that has coverage options in all the places where they will reside throughout the year.
Upon turning 65, older adults qualify for Medicare, a federal health insurance plan that covers hospital stays and medical care. Original Medicare consists of Parts A and B and provides nationwide coverage. This health insurance plan is an entitlement program, meaning that everyone who qualifies is guaranteed coverage.
Medicare Advantage, also called Medicare Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare offered by private health insurance companies. These plans cover everything in Parts A and B, but may also include additional benefits. Unlike Original Medicare, Advantage plans can only be used at in-network providers. In many cases, these providers are located in a specific geographical region, sometimes no larger than a single ZIP code or county.
Medicare Advantage plans provide emergency coverage outside of the plan's service area, enabling policyholders to use their coverage while they're traveling. However, seniors typically pay significantly higher out-of-pocket co-pays and deductibles when visiting an out-of-network doctor or hospital. Additionally, money spent with providers outside of the plan's network doesn't go toward the maximum out-of-pocket limit, meaning there's no cap on how much a senior may pay for a significant medical emergency.
Some Medicare Advantage plans have special "passport" features that enable the policyholder to have in-network coverage outside of the plan's service area. The member is required to notify the Medicare plan carrier when they're traveling, and when they've returned to their original service area. In most cases, this feature can be used for up to nine months. If the policyholder doesn't return to the original service area within that time limit, their policy may be canceled.
Coverage options vary widely from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, and while some plans may make it easy to travel while still receiving affordable care, others don't have this provision. Prior to signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan, seniors who plan to divide their time between two residences should find out what coverage options are available outside the original service area.