Australia’s health system consists of government-funded public health cover and private health insurance.
Public health cover
Australia has two national programs to reduce medical costs:
- Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Medicare is Australia's public healthcare system. Through Medicare, eligible Australian residents receive free treatment in a public hospital as well as reduced costs for out-of-hospital care.
If you live in Australia, you can access the Medicare system if you:
- hold Australian or New Zealand citizenship
- have been issued with a permanent visa.
If you’re in Australia on a temporary visa, you’re not eligible for Medicare unless you’re from a country that has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia. These countries are:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom.
For more information, application details and a full listing of health services funded through Medicare visit the Commonwealth Government's Department of Human Services webpage on Medicare.
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) helps make necessary prescription medicine more affordable for you.
If you’re eligible for Medicare and are enrolled in Medicare, you’re eligible for the PBS. The pharmacist will automatically reduce the cost of your medicine when you buy it.For more information, visit the Commonwealth Government's Department of Human Services webpage on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Private health insurance
There are three types of private health insurance in Australia:
- hospital cover
- treatment cover (also known as extras cover)
- ambulance cover.
Most private health insurers offer single policies and combined policies.
Private health insurance in Australia is optional, but many people buy it for broader health coverage and options than what Medicare provides. There can also be tax benefits to buying private health insurance.
Please note that some private health insurance will not cover the full cost of the services you receive and you should check your policy careful to understand the level of cover provided.
For a full list of providers please visit the Private Health Victoria website.
Private hospital cover
Private hospital cover means that you can choose your doctor, surgeon and hospital. Access to private hospitals can reduce the waiting time for elective surgery.
Treatment and extras cover
Extras in private health insurance can be purchased to cover health services that are not generally included in hospital care and may include services such as:
- home nursing
- occupational therapy
- speech and eye therapy
- glasses and contact lenses
What is covered will depend on the type of policy and the private health insurance provider you choose. You should check your policy carefully to see exactly what you’re covered for and whether this is right for you and your family.
Temporary residents and migrants must have health insurance
If you’re on a temporary work visa (such as subclass 457 and subclass 485) you must provide evidence of adequate health insurance for the duration of your stay in Australia. For more information on health requirements, see the Department of Home Affairs website.
If your current health fund is a member of the International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP), you may be able to transfer to an Australian fund, without penalty, and with a similar level of cover. To check if your health fund is a member, visit the IFHP website.
Choosing private health insurance
You can choose from the many private health funds and different insurance policies available. Membership and prices can vary between funds and policies.
Choosing a membership can be complex. It’s important to understand exactly what your cover includes before entering into a policy. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has put together a useful report card that can help you make a decision.
For more information about private health insurance, visit PrivateHealth.gov.au.
Lifetime Health Cover
If you’re moving to Australia permanently you need to be aware that the Commonwealth Government has introduced Lifetime Health Cover. Lifetime Health Cover only applies to registered Australian funds.
Under this new health cover, the cost of private health insurance goes up for every year you’re uninsured after you turn 31 years old. If you decide not to purchase private health insurance you will pay a higher premium of two per cent per year for every year that you haven't joined since you turned 30.
However, if you’re a new migrant this rule does not apply to you as long as you get private health insurance within one year of arriving in Australia – or by the month of July following your 31st birthday (whichever comes first).
Ambulance costs for one trip can range from A$900 to more than A$5500 if an air ambulance is necessary. You can avoid these high fees by becoming a member of Ambulance Victoria.
Membership with Ambulance Victoria will cover all ambulance service costs throughout Australia. Membership fees vary and can be paid quarterly or through different yearly memberships.
Another way to avoid high ambulance fees is through private health insurance. If you have private health insurance it may cover part or all of your ambulance costs.
Private health funds set their own rules and may only provide restricted ambulance cover such as one emergency transport per year or only cover costs up to a certain amount. Please check your policy for coverage details.