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Does Medicare cover a domestic cruise ? Answer might surprise you…

medicare domestic cruise

How Medicare cruise myth can sting Aussies at sea. A recent poll by has found that 82% of Aussies are unsure whether Medicare covers them while cruising in domestic waters.

The data is concerning says Natalie Ball, director of, given that Medicare coverage stops once you set sail.

“It’s astounding to see how many Aussies are under the misconception that Medicare covers you while cruising domestically. In fact, Medicare coverage is restricted to around 20km from Australian ports, which means that once you’re out on the water; you’re on your own in terms of healthcare. Travel insurance essential for a cruise holiday whether you are overseas or in Australian waters.”

The survey findings follow a recent Smart Traveller* report that revealed nearly half of cruisers travel unknowingly uninsured.

The report also stated that more than a third of cruise goers believe travel insurance is less important for cruises than for other overseas holidays due to having ‘doctors on board’.

“The data points to a common thread; Aussies are gravely misinformed when it comes to cruise cover,”says Ball.

“There is a widespread belief that cruise holidays are safer and less exposed to risk- this couldn’t be further from the truth. You are just as likely to fall ill, get injured or run into delays while cruising as you are when travelling overseas.”

Ball notes that cruisers shouldn’t rely solely on medical facilities on board.

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“While cruise ships do have doctors on call, this doesn’t undermine the need for travel insurance. In an emergency the facilities on board may not cut it, forcing you to evacuate to the nearest hospital. Without travel insurance, any medical fees and emergency transport expenses would be at your own cost.”

Cruise passenger perils

The staggering cost of medical care while cruising often comes as a surprise to unsuspecting travellers.

For a retired couple insured with Zoom Travel Insurance, a dream holiday turned into a downright nightmare while on a cruise trip between Australia and the United States.

The husband suffered a heart attack while halfway between Australia and America, still five days away from a port. He required urgent medical care and was then transported to Tahiti for emergency surgery. After five days in hospital both he and his wife were flown back to Australia.

“If you include medical expenses, cruise cancellation, flight rescheduling and more, the total cost of this claim would have been about $59,000,” says Ball. “The customers paid around $1,100 for travel insurance so this was money very well spent. It’s hard to imagine how they would have covered these expenses had they not had insurance.”

Unexpected cruise costs

Ball goes on to add that medical costs on board a cruise ship are typically far greater than what most travellers expect.

“With passengers restricted to health care on board, medical costs and doctors’ fees on a ship can be unexpectedly pricey. Infirmary bills can be as much as $5,000 per day and consultations and medications are usually charged at private, costly rates. Then there are the frightening fees you’d expect to pay for helicopter evacuation while at sea.”

According to Ball, a ship evacuation can cost anywhere between $10,000 – $20,000 in Australian waters, and anything up to $50,000 in international waters. And that’s before the medical bills

“Not only should you ensure your health is covered at sea, you can’t overlook the expense of an emergency evacuation,” notes Ball. “If you consider the astronomical risks, travel insurance is a no-brainer.”

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