Cruise Passengers Beware: An Injury on the High Seas May Not Be Covered by Health Insurance

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

doctorOur cruise ship injury lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have  reported on several alarming accidents that have left cruise passengers seriously injured. Many of these accidents are the result of the cruise line’s own negligence in failing to maintain a safe environment onboard for guests. Additionally, many cruise passengers who are injured or become ill require much greater treatment than the medical facilities onboard a cruise ship can provide. If this is ever the case, cruise lines are required to arrange for the passenger to be airlifted off the ship and transported to the nearest land-based hospital.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur. Not only do passengers often get denied the full extent of medical attention they deserve for their conditions, but oftentimes, onboard physicians misdiagnose passengers or refuse to even admit a sick passenger for overnight observation. This has led to countless incidents where a passenger’s condition became worse, and in some situations, resulted in the passenger’s death. All this, only to be slapped with a huge bill at the end of their cruise for the physician’s “services,” or rather, lack thereof.

But while many cruise passengers that become ill or injured do obtain adequate treatment at their ship’s medical quarters, they are counting on their health insurance to cover the costs. Well, recent reports have shown that this may not always be the case.

For passengers sailing on cruise ships between Australian ports who are covered under the country’s Medicare insurance, medical treatments received onboard may not be covered. According to cruise operators, including Carnival Australia, Medicare ”does not apply” on domestic voyages. Additionally, the cruise operators claim their onboard physicians, many of whom are foreign, are not required to have provider numbers.

So, what does this mean for those who are injured or become ill? Do they have to pay out of pocket, even if the accident was the result of the cruise line’s own negligence? According to these cruise lines, the answer is yes.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel website specifically states that Medicare benefits are, in fact, payable for people ”travelling between two Australian ports,” but the site fails to mention that not all cruise ship doctors are registered with Medicare.

This is a problem passenger Sandra Barrett learned the hard way. Ms. Barrett was sailing onboard a P&O cruise from Sydney to Melbourne last year and consulted with the ship’s doctor. Already covered by Medicare, imagine Ms. Barrett’s surprise when she received a bill for a whopping $1,700 for a mere 20 minutes of treatment.

The bill was charged to Ms. Barrett because the doctor onboard her ship was not registered as a provider with Medicare.

Should cruise lines be responsible for ensuring their onboard physicians accept Medicare? Well, not necessarily. In an ideal world, cruise lines would always cater to the needs of passengers and anticipate any possible issues with their health by not only accepting all forms of insurance, but also expanding onboard medical facilities to provide more expansive care to treat severe injuries quickly and successfully. Unfortunately, we do not live in the perfect world. No medical provider at any land-based practice is required to accept all forms of insurance, so naturally, cruise line doctors should not be forced to accept Medicare, or any other insurance policy, either.

However, cruise lines should provide a disclaimer for passengers regarding what insurance policies are and are not accepted so passengers can be fully aware of what they can expect in the unfortunate event they become sick. Many of the problems experienced by cruise passengers stem from the fact that cruise lines fail to provide proper notice of their policies. If guests are informed of what is covered and isn’t covered at the time of booking, many of the issues involving medical claims would be resolved.