Got Medicare? Got Sanctions?

CarmenBy: Carmen Peace, RN


With medicare participation at an all-time high & growing, the implementation of health care reform there is ever increasing need for user friendly guides on what is covered, when, and by what entity. More and more older Americans are living active lifestyles that involve travel and that includes travel abroad.

Recently, a cousin of mine went on a Scandinavian cruise with a group. The cruise included stops in Denmark, Sweden, Russia,  and other countries. While in St. Petersburg, my cousin’s cabin mate fell ill & had to be hospitalized and my cousin stayed behind to assist her. Now, the thought of being hospitalized in Russia may conjure up nightmares for a lot of Americans, let me first say that my cousin reported that they were treated with nothing but kindness.

Finally after several days, obtaining the appropriate visas, and securing a medical escort for the patient, they were granted permission to go back to the United States. However, the patient, who was of medicare age had to settle her over $12K hospital bill before she was allowed to leave.

Why, do you ask, did she have to pay the bill in full before being allowed to leave? Why, do you ask, couldn’t medicare cover at least a portion of this? How, do you ask, was she able to cover such a huge unexpected expense incurred on a vacation? The answer to the first two questions can be answered in one word…SANCTIONS.

The United States has sanctions on Russia and this, ladies and gentlemen, means there is no U.S. money going to that country…none, zero, zilch, zip. This means if you travel to country that has been sanctioned, need medical help, and are of medicare age you could be stuck with an astronomical medical bill. Let me add that the patient was being cared for in one of the privately run healthcare facilities but could have been seen in the public “state” run hospital and not incurred that bill but I don’t want to create more nightmares for you.

No one appreciates international travel more than I do but I encourage you know the governmental status of the country you are traveling to in regards to whether the American government is interacting favorably with them. Because if there are sanctions in place, it may be a bit more difficult, if not impossible to get help in that country. For example, the cabinmate left her bag of medication at DFW airport. She paid over $300 to have Fedex send it to her when the ship docked in Sweden but because there wasn’t enough information on the contents, it was not allowed past customs nor could it be sent to Russia because those darned sanctions do not allow for American companies to do business there.

The happy ending is that my cousin & the cabinmate made it back to the U.S., the cabinmate’s health is back intact, & will eventually recoup the medical expenses paid while overseas.



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