Cruising With Medicare
Know What Medicare Covers Before You Take Your Next Cruise
Cruising is an increasingly popular vacation choice for many Americans. But while you may begin and end your cruise in the U.S., the majority of your trip will likely be in international waters and foreign ports of call. And that can make a big difference in what’s covered by Medicare should you need medical care while on vacation.
Understanding Medicare’s Coverage
It’s important to know that Medicare coverage outside the U.S. is actually very limited. In fact, with original Medicare, your coverage may be limited to only emergency situations, such as:
- When you’ve been admitted to a foreign hospital as an inpatient
- When you need an ambulance and emergency care on the way to the hospital (and you are then admitted to the hospital)
- When you require non-emergency ambulance service/treatment immediately before or during a covered inpatient hospital stay
A Word About Medicare Advantage Plans
Because private insurance companies provide Medicare Advantage plans, coverage for medical services on a cruise ship or outside the U.S. may be different than with original Medicare. Be sure to check your Summary of Benefits or Evidence of Coverage documents to see exactly what’s covered under your plan. Or call your plan’s customer service department directly.
Special Coverage for Cruise Passengers
While Medicare’s coverage for foreign travel is pretty slim, it does provide some additional benefits for people on a cruise vacation. Specifically, Medicare will cover medically-necessary health care services in the following situations:
- The ship’s doctor is allowed under specific laws to provide medical services on the ship
- The ship is in a U.S. port or no more than 6 hours away from a U.S. port when you receive medical care
Remember, once your ship is more than six hours away from a U.S. port, non-emergency health care services are not covered by original Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, check with your plan provider for details on what’s covered, and what’s not, while on your cruise.
Planning Your Cruise with Medicare in Mind
The last thing you want to worry about on your cruise vacation is health care. But with a little planning, you can help make sure your next cruise is smooth sailing.
Know Your Ports of Call
Depending on your ports of call, you may be spending more time in U.S. territory than you think. Remember, both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (primarily St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas), two popular cruise destinations, are unincorporated territories of the United States. As such, you enjoy the same Medicare coverage in these locations as you would if you were at home in one of the 50 states.
Talk to the Ship’s Medical Staff Before Setting Sail
Whether you have medical concerns or not, it makes sense to schedule a quick appointment with your ship’s medical staff before you set sail. You’ll be able to meet the doctor(s) onboard and get an idea of what you’d need to do should you need medical assistance. You can also let the staff know upfront that you have Medicare, which will help them plan accordingly for your care, should you need it.
Review Your Medicare Advantage Plan’s Coverage
As mentioned earlier, Medicare Advantage plans may offer coverage that’s a little different than original Medicare. Some plans may offer more coverage outside the U.S. than original Medicare does, for instance, but you may have to pay more out of pocket. The key is to know before you go by checking your Evidence of Coverage documents or simply calling your plan directly.
By doing just a little research into your Medicare coverage, you can make sure your next cruise vacation is worry-free when it comes to your health care. If you have original Medicare and need more information, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE or review this fact sheet detailing Medicare coverage outside the United States. Call Medicare Solutions at 1-877-614-2333 to speak to a licensed Medicare specialist who can help you prepare for an upcoming cruise or trip. Know before you go and your cruise vacation is bound to be a more relaxing and enjoyable one.
If cruising isn’t your cup of tea, take a look at our Medicare Coverage While Traveling article. It covers everything you need to know about your Medicare coverage on dry land.