Which FEHB Plan Has Overseas Coverage? Federal Employee Health Benefit for Expats

Federal employees planning to retire overseas need to be aware of the implications for Medicare and FEHB plans.

Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) plans provide various benefits for federal employees. These plans often extend coverage to medical care received in foreign countries, though the specifics of this coverage can vary depending on the chosen plan.

Many FEHB plans offer coverage for emergency medical services received abroad, and some may even cover routine care. In addition, there are special FEHB plans designed specifically for individuals who reside or frequently travel overseas. These plans may offer enhanced benefits for foreign medical care, including coverage for routine services, and prescription drugs. Reviewing and understanding your options would be the key to enjoying living or traveling abroad.

Medicare Coverage Overseas? FEHB to the Rescue

While Medicare is an important and crucial aspect for retirees residing in the US, it does not provide coverage while you are overseas. Medicare’s website specifically states that it does not provide health care coverage outside of the United States. There are some rare cases where it could pay for care, but they are the exception and not the norm. The exceptions are:

  1. You are in the US during a medical emergency, but a foreign hospital is closer than the nearest US hospital that can treat your condition.
  2. You are passing by Canada when traveling a direct route between Alaska and the US when a medical emergency occurs, and a Canadian hospital is closer than a US hospital.
  3. You live in the US and the foreign hospital is closer to your home than the nearest US hospital that can treat your condition, regardless of emergency. 

Paying for Medicare Part B certainly doesn’t make sense if you will be living abroad. However, is the move permanent? If not, how long will you be an expat? If you move back to the US years later and enroll in Medicare Part B, you will be subject to Medicare penalties if you have not had Medicare since age 65.

How does retirement affect FEHB coverage for those living outside the U.S.?

Not all FEHB insurance plans offer coverage while you are a resident of a foreign country. More importantly, plan providers change their service benefits, so it’s crucial that you review your health plan annually. One example is the United Healthcare Medicare Advantage Plan. They used to offer routine overseas care but have changed that to emergency coverage only. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield for Most FERS Retirees

If you are planning to live outside of the US, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, the BCBS plan may be your best option. They have a dedicated Overseas Assistance Center and a Pre-Departure Questionnaire to check on your coverage. You are also eligible for telehealth consultations and have pharmacy coverage. The limitation on prescriptions is the expenses are paid out-of-pocket. You can submit the payment for reimbursement.

If you are eligible, consider Compass Ross or the Foreign Service Benefit Plan. These are the only two plans that may offer better coverage than BCBS. However, you must have participated in these plans before retirement; not all employees are eligible. 

Utilize the Consumers’ Checkbook Guide on FEHB 

The annual FEHB guide published by Consumers’ Checkbook is the ultimate resource for current employees and retirees. You can sign up for their online tool that can help you narrow down the best plan for your situation. Use code “PLANWELL” to receive a 20% discount. 

Considering the move abroad? Check out our article on Retiring Abroad? Changes to Federal Benefits, Social Security Benefits, and Tax Rules for an Expat.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Securities and advisory services offered through Osaic Wealth, Inc., member FINRASIPCOsaic Wealth is separately owned and other entities and/or marketing names, products or services referenced here are independent of Osaic Wealth. Representatives may not be registered to provide securities and advisory services in all states. Branch address: 10701 Parkridge Blvd, Ste 130, Reston, VA 20191. Branch phone: 571-543-2783.

About the Author

David Fei is the co-founder of PlanWell Financial Planning. He specializes in guiding federal employees toward a confident retirement nationwide. PlanWell’s mission is to empower Feds when making retirement decisions, ensuring their benefit choices align with their retirement aspirations. Sign up for our no-cost Federal Retirement Webinar or contact him for a confidential review.