Does the health care bill float?

I’m wondering if the Healthcare and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 will affect owner’s cure obligation under the general maritime law? My gut reaction is probably not, but I need to kick the issue around some more.

So this is what I’m thinking. Broadly speaking, with maintenance and cure, a vessel owner has an obligation to give injured crewmembers medical treatment and a living stipend. This is an old judge-made doctrine and the underlying policy was to ensure that seamen would be cared for in a straightforward way. However, if the health care bill requires all U.S. citizens and legal residents to purchase health insurance by 2014, isn’t the original policy behind the “cure” aspect of this doctrine going to be irrelevant? I wonder whether a vessel owner can now argue that the original policy behind the “cure” obligation is extinct because every tinker, tailor, soldier, or mariner is required to purchase health insurance. Or, can an owner argue that Congress has now imposed an affirmative duty on individuals to purchase health insurance which duty trumps judge-made policy?

I don’t have enough room to float the counter arguments (of which there are many including the fact that the “cure” obligation may extend to foreign seaman), but I invite you to do so. I might be all wet, but for the sake of a bar-top discussion, it’s mildly curious stuff, right?

Underway and making way.

WARNING: No legal opinion offered and no attorney/client relationship is formed. If you have a legal issue, contact an attorney. Do not rely on anything stated herein. This is not the appropriate forum to seek legal advice.


About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at . His website is

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