As one of the most developed nations in the world and one of the most affluent, as you would expect, Australia has a very well developed healthcare system in place. Healthcare in Australia that provides comprehensive cover for its citizens and to a certain extend for some expats.
As a citizen of a nation such as the UK, if you’re visiting or emigrating to Australia you can take advantage of many of the healthcare benefits as your nation has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia.
Having said that, because as with any publicly funded healthcare scheme there are fiscal deficits affecting it, healthcare in Australia is often better privately financed by the individual in the form of at least a supplementary health insurance policy. In this article we’ll look at the background and realities of healthcare in Australia for anyone new to the country.
As stated, there is a publicly funded healthcare scheme with which Brits and those from nations with which Australia has a reciprocal agreement can get free medical care. Current estimates put the Australian government as funding 70% of all health related costs in Australia – this is high. And it is also quite impressive because Australia has a population of over 20,434,176 citizens and manages to support a very healthy life expectancy rate of 77.7 years for males and 83.6 for females (statistics from CIA World Factbook 2007). However, there are areas of the public system that fail some people. For example, waiting times can be long for those requiring non-emergency surgery, and it can be harder to get referrals to see specialists if you do not have private health insurance.
As an expatriate, when you arrive and begin working in Australia you will immediately begin paying in to the public healthcare scheme by way of your taxes; and depending on your income, you will also pay into the Medicare scheme as well. This is financed through progressive income tax – i.e., the amount you contribute depends on your ability to pay. Medicare is a supplement to the basic public healthcare scheme and it subsidises services and prescription medicines bought from pharmacies with those eligible for a claim either paying the doctor’s fees and then claiming the money back, or requesting payment up front for treatment from Medicare.
The final way of paying for healthcare when living in Australia is through a private medical insurance scheme and there are great incentives to do so. Basically the government wants to get those who can pay away from relying on public healthcare services, so if you are aged under 31 you’re given lifetime financial incentives to start and maintain private medical insurance payments. If you’re over the age of 31 you’re given some discount but it diminishes with every year you delay getting insured. The good news is that the government in Australia insists that insurance companies observe community rating – i.e., insurance companies must charge equal premiums regardless of medical status or claims history so that the chronically ill or the elderly cannot be overcharged by an insurance company.
The benefits of having at least a basic level of private health insurance in Australia are great – it means you don’t have to wait to be seen or treated, it means you can have private rooms if you have to be hospitalised and it means you have priority when it comes to treatment. But the good news is, no matter what your status, as a citizen of Australia you have excellent rights when it comes to receiving at least basic and emergency medical care.