Can you cruise with Medicare? She has a painful warning to share

Cruise with Medicare as your insurance? Better read her painful warning first. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author.

When Maureen Niland and her husband booked their recent Holland America cruise, their thoughts were on new adventures — not medical insurance. But tragedy struck just hours after the ship left the port in Ft. Lauderdale. John Niland suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died. And the new widow learned an important lesson: Never take a cruise with Medicare and rely on it as your primary insurance.

The Nilands’ story is a reminder that unexpected events can happen at any time — even on vacation. And while it’s impossible to predict these calamities, some pre-planning can reduce their financial impact. And having a good trip insurance policy in place can often be a welcome relief in these difficult situations.

Taking a Holland America cruise with Medicare as their primary insurance

In January 2018, the Nilands boarded Holland America’s Eurodam for a cruise through the Caribbean. That same evening, John Niland collapsed and was rushed to the ship’s medical center. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he passed away.

“As I was leaving the ship, a Holland America employee handed me an invoice for medical services,” Niland recalled. “Then Holland America charged $3,000 to my credit card.”

That’s not very nice, Holland America.

Niland had just lost her husband. Maybe a sympathy card would have been a better offering as she left this Holland America cruise. A bill for medical services could have come later.

The Nilands had no travel insurance. And the couple had taken the cruise with Medicare as their primary medical insurance coverage. Assuming that Medicare would cover all the bills, she submitted a claim for reimbursement. That’s where Niland hit a giant roadblock.

Here’s why taking a cruise with Medicare as your medical insurance is a bad idea

Unfortunately, the Nilands did not check whether their Medicare policy would provide medical coverage during their trip. If they had, they would have discovered that Medicare would not cover any medical treatment during most of this cruise.

There are limited circumstances that will allow for Medicare coverage on a cruise.

Medicare may cover medically necessary health care services you get on a cruise ship in these situations:
The doctor is allowed under certain laws to provide medical services on the cruise ship.
The ship is in a U.S. port or no more than 6 hours away from a U.S. port when you get the services, regardless of whether it’s an emergency.

Medicare doesn’t cover health care services you get when the ship is more than 6 hours away from a U.S. port.

Taking a Holland America cruise? Don't count on Medicare to cover your during your trip.
Areas within red are U.S. waters. In most cases, Medicare will only cover treatment within those borders.

The high costs of medical treatment on a cruise

So, if you choose to cruise with Medicare as your primary insurance, beware. If you fall ill — or worse — during your cruise, in most cases you are on the financial hook for all medical treatment.

And make no mistake, medical treatment onboard a cruise is quite expensive. Take, for example, the recent article that our publisher Christopher Elliott wrote about Murray Cohen. He spent just two days in sickbay during his cruise and it cost him almost $6,000.

We receive many requests for help to erase or negotiate lower cruise ship medical fees after the fact.  It’s important to be aware that no cruise line appears willing to bargain its services once rendered. We have no successes to report in that arena.

So, unless you don’t mind the possibility of a sky-high medical bill onboard your next cruise, it’s critical to have a valid medical insurance policy in place. And it’s not just Medicare that freezes coverage during your journey outside the United States. Most US-based insurance policies provide limited to no coverage for medical treatment outside of our borders.

Where exactly was this Holland America cruise during this event?

After reviewing all of the Medicare information, I thought there was still hope for Niland’s claim.

“The scheduled departure time was 4. My husband was at the infirmary by 9:30,” Niland told me. “…cutting it close aren’t we!”

Yes. That certainly is cutting it close, but still within the six hours from departure time allowed for Medicare coverage(E-Healthcare video) on this cruise.

Niland’s claim had been turned down because there is an alternative procedure to file a cruise-related Medicare claim. These claims must go through the passenger’s home state’s office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

Once Niland filed the claim through the correct office, it still wasn’t smooth sailing. Medicare requested medical procedure codes from Holland America. The cruise line responded by explaining that they do not use procedure codes and aren’t required to do so. And round and round the claim continued.

A sad lesson learned and a warning for Medicare subscribers

Suddenly, though, Niland’s Medicare struggle came to a pleasant end.

She had also filed a claim with her secondary insurance company. And, although that company initially told her it would not cover her husband’s treatment, it did. By surprise, a check for the entire requested reimbursement arrived five months after this terrible situation began.

Niland was more than happy to abandon her fight with Medicare and close this sad chapter of her life.

She ended our time together by sending this warning to our readers:

The lesson learned for me was how difficult and nearly impossible Medicare can make things!
From no coverage on foreign soil to no coverage if “procedure codes” are not used.
These are some things that travelers need to know….

Our files are filled with pleas for help from travelers who found out too late that their insurance would not cover illnesses and accidents abroad. Don’t let this happen to you. Before you head off on your next adventure, make sure that you’re covered for the unexpected.

Update: After this story first ran, I received several emails pointing out that there are Medicare supplements that can provide international coverage. It’s important to note that these are at an additional cost and must be selected before travel. A standard Medicare policy will not cover travelers outside the boundaries of the United States.

All Medicare subscribers should check their individual policies before traveling outside the United States by air, land or sea. For more information about Medicare coverage visit Medicare.gov.

Underwritten by

Underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Underwritten by Enterprise

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

Underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

Underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

Underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

%d bloggers like this:
This free newsletter will save you from scams.