28th March, 2014

Cruise ship passengers ‘not always covered by Medicare’

A cruise ship passenger has expressed her anger over being landed with a large medical bill for treatment she received while travelling from Sydney to Melbourne.

Sandra Barrett, 64, told the Sydney Morning Herald that she expected Medicare to cover her journey because the trip was between two Australian ports. Ms Barrett consulted a doctor on a P&O cruise ship last year after suffering heat exhaustion and the 20-minute meeting cost her $1,700.

"It doesn't matter if it's something fleeting, once you get ill you have to pay. I was told that without travel insurance it would cost me $3,000 a night to stay in the ship's sick bay," she stated.

Ms Barrett's case may encourage tradies to review their existing tradesman insurance needs and see whether travel cover should be included. Particularly as recent Roy Morgan Research revealed more Australians are considering domestic holidays this year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) site claims that Medicare benefits are available to people travelling between two Australian ports. However, many of the doctors on cruise ships are foreign and do not hold Medicare provider numbers.

A spokesman for Carnival, which owns P&O, said the organisation makes every attempt to inform passengers of the arrangements for on-board medical treatments and advised people to take out travel insurance.

"There has never been an expectation that only Australian doctors with Medicare provider numbers would be employed on cruises between Australian ports," he added.

Western Sydney MP Laurie Ferguson highlighted Ms Barrett's case in federal parliament this week, claiming the DFAT website is misleading. He argued that while it is mentioned Medicare coverage is available between ports, it does not qualify that by saying many cruise ships employ doctors who are not Medicare-accredited.

"I would not think it unusual that Australians travelling to the Melbourne Cup or some cricket event by ship would decide not to take out travel insurance for such a short journey," he explained.

Author: Murray Bruce