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care system in australia

Aleexpat tells us about the health care system in Australia, her host country.

The public health care system in Australia, managed by the federal government, is known as Medicare. It was founded in 1984 and helps facing medical and ambulatory expenses, hospital care and in some cases, even dental and eye treatments.

You have a right to Medicare if:

  • You are a permanent Australian or New Zealand citizen
  • You are a permanent resident
  • You have applied for permanent residence (with the exception of the parent visa) and you have:
    1. A temporary visa, allowing you to work, or
    2. A temporary visa and you have a parent/spouse/de facto partner/child that is an Australian    citizen or permanent resident in Australia.

You also have a right to Medicare when a reciprocity agreement between Australia and your passport country is in place.

In order to enjoy the above mentioned condition, you have to go to the nearest Medicare office (check out the Yellow Pages or this useful link, https://humanservices.findnearest.com.au) and apply, bringing with you:

  • Your passport
  • A photocopy of the visa
  • Your country’s health card (sometimes they ask for it!).

The Medicare card is released immediately as a paper receipt, but in a couple of weeks the proper magnetic card will be delivered at your place. Every time you leave Australia and come back, you can apply for a new card for another six months, starting from the moment you enter the country again. I suggest you never to throw away the previous card, even if it has expired, because showing it will speed up the reissuing procedure..

The Medicare website, https://www.humanservices.gov.au/, recently incorporated in the Department of Human Services, is very exhaustive, and provides a complete list of everything covered by the public health care system and also what is not covered.

Generally speaking, all emergency hospital treatments are free. The GP is totally or partially reimbursed, as is ambulatory care (blood tests and X-rays) and specialist visits.

For the latter, the Australian public health care system works this way: whenever you need a particular medical visit (a cardiologist, orl, gynecologist, etc.), you have to go to your GP and ask for a referral letter, i.e. a letter written by him/her, addressed to the specialist, and that gives the reason for this visit.

Medicare also helps you facing the costs of medicaments, thanks to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the pharmaceutical national plan. Should you have any prior pathology or need particular kinds of drugs, it is advisable to immediately contact a GP and understand how you can get your medical expenses covered.

As far as reimbursements are concerned, you can face one of the following situations:

  • The GP addresses an invoice directly to Medicare and you do not pay anything (bulk billing);
  • The GP issues an invoice to the patient, who will pay the visit and then will go to the appropriate Medicare office for reimbursement;
  • If the patient has registered his/her bank account with Medicare, the GP can ask Medicare to be reimbursed, and the patient will only pay for the difference.

What happens when Medicare expires and you can no longer use it?

A good percentage of Australians and most expatriates use a private health care system that under many circumstances provides a higher flexibility, the choice of cares in private hospitals, the coverage of treatments that are not covered by Medicare (for instance physiotherapy, orthodontist, dietologist, etc.). Moreover, those who enjoy a medium/high income are highly motivated to subscribe to a private insurance, since if you do not have one, you’ll be required to pay a higher revenues percentage (medical levy surcharge).

Private health insurances are numerous, with offices spread all over the country, and you can easily find them in the mall close to your home.

The most used are Hbf (https://www.hbf.com.au), Medibank (https://www.medibank.com.au), Bupa (https://www.bupa.com.au), but there are lots more.

Careful: do not trust online quotes. If you are in Australia, Medicare is about to expire and you think to join a health care private insurance, call to ask for quotes, or ask to have a quote sent by mail, or, even better, go the nearest office. Insurance tariffs can greatly vary according to the kind of visa you have. Anyway, almost all of them are made up of two parts, one linked to the percentage of coverage of hospital care, and another linked to all cares not covered by Medicare. Other expenditures add up to these, an important one – and not to underestimate – is the ambulance. This service is not covered by Medicare and its cost, whether it’s done for emergency or not, can be very high. This is certainly an aspect to take into account (and a cost to face) if you do not live close to an emergency or hospital.

Useful numbers:

Medicare 132 011

PBS 132 290

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National)
 – National service of interpretation and translation 131 450


Alessandra Giacchi (Aleexpat) 
Perth, Western Australia 
November 2012
Translated into English by Gina

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