Surprising 20km Medicare rule you need to know

 

MEDICARE is the great safety net of the Australian people, but there's a big misconception about how far that net stretches - and it's costing holiday-makers thousands in unexpected costs.

According to a recent poll by Compare Travel Insurance, 82 per cent of Australians are unsure about whether Medicare covers them on a domestic cruise.

The bad news is, it won't - Medicare stops as soon as the ship sets sail, even if it's heading for another Australian port.

And with nearly half of us going on cruise holidays without travel insurance, according to Smartraveller research, this is leaving thousands of Australian holiday-makers without any coverage for sickness or injury.

Many Australians don’t realise Medicare stops 20km from Australian ports, even if you’re not going to another country.
Many Australians don’t realise Medicare stops 20km from Australian ports, even if you’re not going to another country.

"It's astounding to see how many Aussies are under the misconception that Medicare covers you while cruising domestically," Compare Travel Insurance director Natalie Ball said.

"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 is essential for a cruise holiday whether you are overseas or in Australian waters."

Smartraveller's research also found more than a third of cruise travellers thought travel insurance was less important on cruises, even overseas journeys, because there was a doctor on-board the ship.

"While cruise ships do have doctors on call, this doesn't undermine the need for travel insurance," Ms Ball said.

 

Australians wrongly think Medicare covers them for domestic cruise holidays. Picture: iStock
Australians wrongly think Medicare covers them for domestic cruise holidays. Picture: iStock

"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."

Infirmary bills could cost as much as $5000 per day and consultations and medications were usually charged at expensive private rates, Ms Ball said.

And if the patient had to be evacuated at sea, they'd be facing extra costs of $10,000 to $20,000 in Australian waters and up to $50,000 in international waters.

"The data points to a common thread: Aussies are gravely misinformed when it comes to cruise cover," Ms Ball said.

"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."

Doctors’ fees and costs for medicine can be exorbitant on cruise ships, and medical evacuations can cost tens of thousands extra.
Doctors’ fees and costs for medicine can be exorbitant on cruise ships, and medical evacuations can cost tens of thousands extra.

 

That's something retired NSW couple Frank and Leah Armstrong discovered on their dream cruise holiday from Australia to the United States when Mr Armstrong, 81, suffered a heart attack five days away from the next port.

Mr Armstrong, who was insured, spent five nights in the medical centre on the Ovation of the Seas, unsure whether he'd survive.

"I spent five days in the medical centre on the ship. Then, as soon as we reached land in Tahiti, an ambulance rushed me to the main hospital which had been informed of my situation," Mr Armstrong said.

"There was a cardiologist already waiting as I went straight into surgery where they operated on me for over two hours putting two stents into my arteries."

 

Frank and Leah Armstrong, from NSW, were grateful to have health insurance when Frank suffered a heart attack on an international cruise holiday.
Frank and Leah Armstrong, from NSW, were grateful to have health insurance when Frank suffered a heart attack on an international cruise holiday.

 

Mr Armstrong, who said he was "fairly fit" before the heart attack, said he was grateful he was covered by his insurer, Zoom Travel Insurance.

"After the surgery I spent five days in hospital and five days recuperating," he said.

"When I was fit to fly I was flown back home to Australia, which was all paid for by my travel insurer."

Ms Ball said the total of Mr Armstrong's ordeal would have been about $59,000, including medical expenses, cruise cancellation and flight rescheduling.

"Frank and Leah paid around $1100 for travel insurance so this was money very well spent considering," she said.

"It's hard to imagine how they would have covered these expenses had they not had insurance."

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