| Thu, Dec 20, 2012 @ 09:00 AM

How to Be “Medicare-Prepared”: A Primer for Snowbirds

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

medicare doctor visit winter travelIt’s time for the great migration, as the affectionately-dubbed “snowbirds” flock to warmer climes. If you, or your loved one, are heading south, a few simple preparations may help make the trip and the time spent away as carefree as possible.

See Your Doctor Before You Go

You may have a doctor in your winter community—in fact, it’s a very good idea. Still, most people have a close relationship with the doctor they see near their primary residence. So it makes sense to work with your main doctor to get ready for your time away.

Try to get a check-up within a month or two of your departure date. This allows you and your doctor to discuss your health status and plan for any care you may need while you’re gone. Your doctor can also make sure that any prescriptions you may need are up to date. You may want to ask about 90-day prescriptions so you will have a good supply of your medications on hand. Many drug plans allow for refills nationwide or at national network pharmacies, but some may not. Your plan may also have a mail order pharmacy benefit that you can use. Just be sure to arrange for delivery to your seasonal address.

If necessary, your home doctor may prepare a communication about your health status and care plan that you can take to share with your seasonal doctor. In addition, make sure you understand how to get in touch with your home doctor if you need to while you’re away. In some cases, your seasonal doctor may wish to consult with your home doctor. Most doctors are willing to collaborate in this way.

Take Documents and Information You May Need

When you see your home doctor, be sure to ask for a copy of your medical records to take with you. This may save time and trouble should you need medical attention on the road or in your winter community. In most medical situations, you will need to provide the following before treatment can begin:

  • Primary care physician name and contact information
  • Drug and food allergies
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Medical devices being used
  • Blood type
  • Current medications
  • Past surgical procedures
  • Insurance plan information

You may also want to bring copies of legal documents that may be needed in an emergency. This may include powers of attorney, health care directives or your living will. If you plan to be on the road for any length of time, it’s a good idea to keep these documents in the glove box. This is where emergency personnel will look in case of accident or illness. While traveling, keep your emergency contact information and medical records there as well where they can be quickly and easily located if needed.

Finally, you may want to wear a medical ID if there are health issues, memory problems, or safety concerns. This is always a good thing to do and even more important when you are away from your primary home and support system.

Understand Your Medical and Hospital Coverage

It’s important to understand what your plan will cover when you are away from home—and what it may not. You need to consider your medical, hospital and drug coverage. You may get all of this coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan, or you may have Original Medicare. With Original Medicare, you may also have a stand-alone prescription drug plan and supplement insurance.

Original Medicare covers treatment and care that you receive from any provider that accepts Medicare, anywhere in the country. This can be a convenient Medicare choice if you spend extended periods away from home. Most supplement insurance plans provide coverage nationwide as well.

Many Medicare Advantage plans cover only treatment and care that you receive from providers within their contracted network. (Most plans cover emergency care nationwide.) You may get care outside your plan network, but you will probably pay more. Some Medicare Advantage plans, such as private-fee-for-service plans, provide nationwide coverage as long as the provider is willing to accept the plan’s terms, conditions and payment rates.

Prepare to Enjoy

A little preparation may help make a winter spent in sun and warmth even better. Having a plan in place for safe travel, managing your health care needs, and handling emergencies can help put your mind at ease. It may help family members left up north have an enjoyable and worry-free winter, too, even if they do have to contend with the cold and snow.

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.


Original Medicare Coverage: Learn what’s covered and what’s not, at home or away.

Medicare Advantage Plan Types: Learn which types of plans may travel with you.

Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

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