Understanding healthcare in Australia

Whether you’re on a 457 working visa, or just visiting Australia as a tourist, learn about how the Australian healthcare system works and what it means for you. 

How does the Australian healthcare system work?

Australia’s national health care system is split into two parts:

The public health system

Known as Medicare, the Australian government provides free or subsidised health care to Australian residents. It’s funded by Australian tax payers who pay a percentage of their income to cover Medicare costs. 

The private health system

This is the non-government system and is made up of private hospitals and private health insurers (such as Australian Unity). It can also cover things like ambulance services and some or all of the costs of treatment by health service providers including dental treatments, chiropractic, glasses and contact lenses.

What does private health insurance cover?

Private hospital insurance helps to cover the cost of accommodation and procedures in a private hospital (and sometimes also includes cover in public hospitals). Private extras insurance gives you money back on treatments by health service providers. 

For example, private insurance can cover things like:

Services and treatments in a private hospital
Emergency ambulance transportation
Doctor and specialist fees
Prescription medications
Dental treatments
Glasses and contact lenses
Physio, chiro and natural therapies

The extent of your cover depends on the type of policy you select and the services it includes. 

About visas and private health insurance

If you’re not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, your visa may require that you hold an appropriate level of health insurance. For example, this can apply to the following visa types: 

  • Working Visas including 457 and 485
  • Visitor Visas including 600 and 601
  • Working Holiday Visas including 417 and 462

Even if your visa type does not require you to have health insurance, it is still a smart idea. 

Why get health insurance?

Avoid expensive fees for treatment

Healthcare in Australia can be very expensive. For example, public hospital stays can cost in excess of $2000 per night.

Gain control over who treats you and when

Private health insurance can give you the freedom to choose who you want to see and where you get treated.

Choose cover that meets your needs (and budget)

Generally, the more you pay for health insurance, the more things will be covered and the more money you can claim back.

About Reciprocal Health Care Agreements

The Australian Government has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA) with a number of countries. These agreements allow visitors from these countries to receive some subsidised health services for essential medical treatment in Australia through Medicare (visitors from countries without an RHCA must pay for treatments with their own money.)

It’s important to note that even if you’re covered by a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement, you may still need to maintain health insurance to satisfy your visa requirements.

Also, the RCHA is not designed to replace private health insurance. For example, it does not cover things like treatments in private hospitals, ambulance services, and extras services including dental and optical.

You can find out whether you’re covered under a RHCA, and if you are, what level of cover you have, at the Department of Human Services website.

Still got questions?

Check out our list of frequently asked questions.

Healthcare in Australia

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