When a dialysis patient can’t make the medical cruise, can that be held against her?

When Mary Clark is admitted to the hospital days before her cruise sets sail, can the cruise line and medical provider keep her money?

Question: I was scheduled for a cruise but was unable to attend due to a medical emergency. I provided all the documentation required by Dialysis at Sea. I also purchased travel insurance. Dialysis at Sea made a verbal promise of a $5,000 credit toward my next cruise. Dialysis at Sea is now refusing to honor this agreement. Can you help? — Mary Clark, Fairfield, Calif.

Answer: The travel industry is constantly finding new ways to open new doors to would-be travelers, and Dialysis At Sea provides unique on board medical services to patients who might otherwise be limited in traveling. According to its website, the company, established in 1977,

specializes in the treatment of hemodialysis care while onboard cruise ships. Hemodialysis patients have undergone renal failure and must be dialyzed with an artificial kidney to rid the body of fluids and toxins.

Dialysis at Sea Cruises provides a renal care specialist team consisting of a Nephrologist, dialysis nurses and certified technicians. We sail on select cruise sailings with Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Celebrity Cruise Lines.

We provide the most advanced equipment and supplies which are housed and maintained with Dialysis at Sea Cruises and undergo strict maintenance protocols for the most optimum performance.

It is unfortunate that you were not able to travel as originally scheduled and had to cancel at the last minute. Dialysis At Sea customers book their cruise and medical packages through the company, and the terms and conditions of each are similar to traditional cruise packages.

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In your case, you purchased a cruise package on Holland America and bought travel insurance through Allianz, which covered a late cancellation of your reservation with Holland America. Allianz refunded two-thirds of your 14-day cruise fare, per the terms of your insurance policy.

Dialysis At Sea, however, didn’t refund any of your money. When you canceled just days prior to your sail date, you remembered that a company representative told you during a telephone call that you would not receive a refund, but a credit would be applied to a future cruise. When you tried to book your new cruise, however, you said the company refused to honor that verbal offer.

I had the opportunity to speak with a Dialysis At Sea executive, who reviewed the particulars of your case. He told me that the company offers a waiver, which, while not technically insurance, operates like an insurance policy, but you declined to purchase it.

You paid $4,500 for comprehensive on-board medical services offered by Dialysis At Sea, and it would have cost you $315 to purchase the waiver. The company says they strongly recommend the waiver to all of their cruising patients.

The company explained that it doesn’t allow late cancellations because it incurs real costs in coordinating these specialized services on board cruise ships. The company loads $250,000 in medical equipment to the ship and provides a full-time staff of trained, licensed and insured medical professionals. When your medical emergency forced your cancellation, Dialysis At Sea had already made arrangements for your travel, the expenses for which had already been incurred.

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The executive told me he was baffled by the offer to forward a credit to a future cruise booking, because that offer is not in line with company policy. Additionally, you waited a full year to raise the issue with the company.

Despite this, as a goodwill gesture, Dialysis At Sea agreed to make an exception to its policy and will honor the offer to forward the $4,500 credit to a future cruise, if you travel within four months. You accepted this offer, and look forward to cruising in the near future.

Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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