Australia is a popular expatriate destination primarily due to its high standard of living. In fact, it ranks 5th in the world on the Human Development Index (HDI) for its quality of life.
The land Down Under is known for its long life expectancy, low population density, high literacy and education standards, and excellent public healthcare system. Its many plus points make it an expat favourite. So, if you’re moving to Australia for work or other reasons, your decision may be well worth it.
This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to find affordable healthcare in Australia as an expat. We’ll delve into the public healthcare system, Medicare, private health insurance, and how to navigate these services to ensure you have access to quality healthcare without breaking the bank. Whether you’re planning to work, retire, or study in Australia, this guide will equip you with the essential information you need.
Overview of Australia’s Public Healthcare System
Australia has a universal public healthcare system called Medicare that is provided through a blend of public and private health services.
The public system includes public hospitals, public health initiatives, community services, and government-based organizations. Meanwhile, private services include private hospitals, private clinics, pharmacies, and private practice doctors providing public healthcare services who directly bill the government when they see patients.
The federal government funds the public healthcare system through taxes levied on income. Most taxpayers contribute 2% of their salaries toward the Medicare Levy, which funds Medicare payments. This contribution is waived for people who earn little to no income.
If you’re eligible for Medicare, here are a few medical costs it covers:
- Treatment in public hospitals
- Government-approved medical services called the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) (up to 100% of costs if a GP sees the patient and 85% of the expenses in case of specialist care)
- Certain prescription medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) list
- Part of the costs of primary dental care for children, physiotherapy, and community nurse services
You can also access PBS and MBS Safety Nets to avoid paying more than a specific amount yearly on certain treatments and medications.
However, Medicare does not cover the following:
- Treatment in private hospitals
- Ambulance services (except in Tasmania and Queensland, where ambulance services are free)
- Various dental care services
- Certain physiotherapy, ophthalmology, and audiology services
- Most occupational and psychological therapy
- Cosmetic surgery, as well as other treatments that are not clinically necessary
- Home nursing services
Private Health Insurance in Australia
Over 50% of people in Australia opt for private health insurance, and this number is on the rise.
The federal government actively encourages high earners to get private health insurance policies to boost their healthcare coverage. It is part of a program to ease the pressure on public healthcare facilities and reduce patient waiting times.
Moreover, high-earning individuals must pay extra taxes called the Medicare Levy Surcharge if they don’t have private insurance. This surcharge is an additional 1% to 1.5% of their salary over and above the Medicare Levy.
Private health insurance plans are also cheaper for younger people in Australia, so it is advisable to buy one early on.
Eligibility for Public Health Insurance in Australia
Look at who is eligible for public healthcare in Australia and the applicable conditions for expats.
Who Qualifies for Medicare?
Eligibility for public healthcare coverage in Australia is limited to the following groups:
- Australian citizens
- Australian permanent residents
- People in Australia holding specific regional work visas
Conditions for Expats and Visitors
Not every expat and visitor to Australia can get access to Medicare. Expats in Australia who have a work visa and no permanent residency do not enjoy coverage under the public healthcare system.
Applying for Medicare
Applying for Australian Medicare is a hassle-free process. If you’re an expat looking to register with a doctor or dentist in Australia, you can find more information here.
Steps to Apply for Medicare
Applying for Australian Medicare is a hassle-free process. Here are the steps you must follow:
- First, check your Medicare eligibility by visiting the official Australian Medicare.
- If you are eligible, you can apply immediately. The user-friendly and easy-to-navigate website outlines all the documents you must have and the steps you must follow.
- Gather the necessary documents and visit a government service centre.
- Submit the documentation along with a completed Medicare enrolment form.
If everything is in place, you will receive a Medicare number immediately. You will also receive a physical Medicare card within a few weeks.
Sign into the Express Plus Medicare app if you want a digital card copy. You also need to link your myGov account to your Medicare online account to use the app. If you don’t have these accounts, create them and then download the app to access your digital Medicare card.
Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements With Other Countries
Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements with other countries, which include the following:
- New Zealand
- The Netherlands
- The United Kingdom
Even if citizens of these countries are not permanent residents in Australia, they can still access many essential public healthcare services. However, coverage is still limited, and the agreements do not include certain medical services. So, getting a private health insurance policy for full coverage is best.
Private Health Insurance for Expats
Expats in Australia who hold a working visa are not eligible for Australian Medicare coverage. So, they must shoulder their healthcare costs and carry private health insurance. They must also prove they have enough private medical insurance coverage, or won’t get their work visa.
Short-term visitors to Australia — including tourists — must also have adequate private travel health insurance coverage.
How to Find a Suitable and Cheap Health Insurance Plan
According to Australian federal law, all private health insurance companies in the country must be registered to provide medical insurance. You can use PrivateHealth.gov.au’s online policy comparison tool to compare coverage and find an economical and suitable health insurance plan for you.
Go through the registered health insurers and browse their plans to make the right choice and get affordable coverage.
You should also answer the following questions when choosing a health insurance policy to guide your decision:
- Do you already have public or private health insurance? What does it cover?
- What type of private healthcare coverage do you need (hospital cover, general treatment cover, ambulance cover, cover for pregnancy and birth-related services, or a mix of them)?
- Who must you cover (single people, couples, families, or single parents)?
- What is your budget (lower premiums with co-payments or excess payments if you go to the hospital or higher premiums with no excess payments or co-payments)?
Healthcare is an essential consideration you must factor in when moving to Australia — or any country for that matter. Getting proper healthcare coverage helps you stay equipped for medical emergencies. So, ensure you get enough private health insurance coverage by taking out a policy that suits your medical needs.
Finding affordable healthcare as an expat in Australia can be a challenge, but with the right information and preparation, it’s certainly achievable. This is particularly important for those planning to retire in Australia. For more tips on retiring in Australia, check out our guide.