Does Medicare Cover You If You’re on a Cruise Ship?
Dan Levenson May 18, 2022
Traveling on a cruise ship is one of the most relaxing ways to spend your vacation. You’re not in a hurry to get anywhere and every deck has more fun activities and delicious food to enjoy. You can lounge on the deck or kick up your heels on the dance floor, and the last thing that’s on your mind is medical coverage. But in the event that something goes wrong, you want to know for sure that your medical costs are covered while you are on the cruise ship.
If your typical medical coverage is Medicare, are you covered while on a cruise ship? Medicare is a federally managed health plan system and, therefore, tends to be limited to the borders of the US. While Medicare is not available in international waters or foreign countries, there are many cruise ship routes that are almost entirely (or very often) inside the borders where your Medicare plan is still valid.
So when does Medicare cover you on a cruise ship?
Medicare Applies on a Cruise Ship If:
- The ship is inside US Waters
- Or – ship is within 6 hours from a US port
- And – there is an approved Medicare doctor on board
- Or – you have travel medigap insurance
In short, you can still bill your Medicare health plan if the ship is officially within US waters and there is an approved Medicare doctor on board to treat you. However, each of these definitions can also depend on how far your ship is from port and specifics of your insurance plan, including Medigap private coverage/
Medicare If Your Cruise Ship is Inside US Waters
If your cruise ship is still within official US sovereign waters, then your Medicare health plan is still applicable to health care you receive on board. Cruise ships that stick close to the coast and sail up and down the US beaches are often within US borders the entire time. If you take a cruise that never leaves the US waters, your Medicare will be fully active and available (and nearby medical centers within reach) the whole time.
Medicare If Your Ship is Within 6 Hours from a US Port
Likewise, your Medicare coverage will be available if the cruise ship is within 6-hours from departure from or docking at a US port. Even if your ship is slightly outside of US waters during those six hours, the first six hours of your trip and the last six hours of your trip will always be within your Medicare coverage as you will be officially within the sovereignty of the US as registered departing or docking resident of the US port.
With an Approved Medicare Doctor On Board
In order to receive Medicare-covered care, you will need a Medicare-approved doctor. If you have generic Medicare, any doctor with Medicare clearance can give you care on the cruise ship within US borders and send the claim through your Medicare plan. However, if you have an Advanced Medicare plan (custom plans, often through employers) you may require a doctor who is also on your approved health plan list. This is less likely unless you are traveling with your local medical community.
Medigap Coverage Exceptions
Medigap coverage is a type of private insurance designed to help cover Medicare Sections A and B. However, while Medigap focuses on paying Medicare costs, it can also include other ‘gap coverage’ options including some travel, international, or emergency care options that may apply on your cruise ship outside of US borders.
Arranging for Travel Insurance with Medical
If you are taking a cruise without a Medicare doctor on-hand and/or outside US sovereign waters, consider arranging for temporary travel health coverage instead. Ask your travel agent about travel insurance that includes medical coverage or a specific plan for travel emergency medical care. This will ensure you are covered for the duration of your trip and gives you a chance to tailor your medical coverage to what will be available on the cruise ship and the places you will be visiting.
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