Anyone who’s ever been in an emergency situation can attest to the fact that you don’t have a lot of time to think during one. Emergencies call for action. This is especially true if you’re the one having a medical emergency. In the heat of the moment, though, you’re almost certainly not thinking about how much these life-saving services are going to cost you. Unfortunately, they can leave you financially crippled, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

If you’re on Medicare and need emergency care, it can be valuable to know what’s covered before you need to know. So, is a visit to the emergency room totally covered by Medicare? What about an ambulance ride? Are there emergency costs that aren’t covered by Medicare, and can Medigap plans help pay for them?

Medicare Part B can cover emergency services anywhere in the United States. In rare cases, it may also cover them outside of the U.S. Medicare Advantage plans can also provide some coverage for emergency services. Let’s take a closer look at the emergency services coverage and costs you can expect with Medicare.

The Emergency Room and Medicare

What’s Covered?

Generally speaking, services given at a hospital’s emergency department are covered by Medicare Part B if you have one of the following:

  • An injury that requires emergency aid
  • An illness that develops quickly
  • An illness that worsens rapidly

If you’re taken into an emergency department and the cause turns out not to be an emergency, Medicare Part B will likely still cover the services you receive. (For example, you may get coverage for services related to having chest pain that didn’t end up leading to a heart attack.) If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it will cover many of the same services. Your Medicare Advantage plan cannot require you to go in-network for emergency care.

What Are the Costs?

With Original Medicare, emergency room visits have a few costs associated with them. Under Part B, you’ll owe a copay for each visit you make, as well as a copay for each hospital service you receive. The Part B deductible applies. You’ll also be responsible for 20 percent of the Medicare-approved cost for care for your doctor’s services. If you get admitted to a hospital within three days of your emergency visit there for a related condition, you shouldn’t owe the copay since it should be considered part of an inpatient stay.

Under Part B, you’ll owe a copay for each visit you make, as well as a copay for each hospital service you receive.

For the costs for emergency room coverage in your Medicare Advantage plan, please refer to your specific plan.

Medicare Coverage and Emergency Transportation

What’s Covered?

Medicare Part B covers medically-necessary ambulance services to or from the nearest appropriate hospital, critical access hospital, or skilled nursing facility. If there aren’t any care-appropriate facilities in your area, Medicare should pay for transportation outside your area.

Medicare will only cover emergency ambulance transportation when your health is in serious danger and you can’t be transported another way.

It’s important to note, Medicare will only cover emergency ambulance transportation when your health is in serious danger and you can’t be transported another way. For example, it may cover this transportation if you need skilled medical treatment en route or are unconscious. It may cover emergency air transportation in situations where you need immediate care and ground transportation can’t easily reach you, you have a long distance to travel for care, or something is obstructing your travel on the ground.

Note: Medicare may cover non-emergency ambulance trips if you have a written doctor’s order stating they’re medically necessary.

What Are the Costs?

As with emergency department services, using emergency transportation will cost you 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount with Part B. The Part B deductible will still apply. Your costs may be different if you end up going to a critical access hospital or an entity owned by one. You may also choose to go to a different hospital than the nearest facility that can provide your necessary care, but you’ll be charged for the difference in transportation costs.

Medicare Advantage plans may offer similar coverage, but the costs will vary from plan to plan. Please refer to your individual plan for accurate details on coverage and costs.

Extra Coverage to Plug the (Medi)Gaps

If you’ve got Original Medicare, and want some additional help with emergency costs, a Medicare Supplement (Medigap plan) may offer the assistance you’re looking for.

A Medicare Supplement plan is a way you can get extra coverage for emergency costs.

All Medigap plans cover Part B copayments in some form, with most covering 100 percent of Part B copayments/coinsurance. Two Medigap plans, Plans C and F, even cover the Part B deductible, though these are being discontinued in 2020. Other plans can also help with emergency medical costs incurred in other countries, which are rarely covered by Medicare. If you’re interested in one of these plans, or a Medicare Advantage plan which can also offer extra coverage, finding a plan couldn’t be simpler. Check out the Medicareful Plan Finder to see what plans are available in your area.

● ● ●

Ultimately, if you need something to save your life in an emergency, we believe you should get the service. Costs can wait. Your life is what’s important. But, it’s also nice to know that there’s a good chance that your Medicare plan will have you covered.