According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Australia's health system is one of the best in the world. With well-equipped hospitals and a great team of health professionals, life expectancy averages 80 years for Australian men and 84 years for women.
Australia's healthcare system is considered a mixed system, as it is subsidized through a public-private partnership. Australia's public health service, also known as Medicare, is universal, ensuring coverage for all Australian citizens. Medicare is largely financed by the Australian government and the remainder is financed from a fee, where Australians' income tax is deducted annually when 2% of taxable income goes to the financing of this public system.
However, universal health is relatively new in Australia. Health care in the 19th century was largely a private matter. The quality of health care depended on many factors, including where you lived, what type of education and education you had, and your income level.
Doctors were not necessarily the highly trained and regulated professionals we now know: this is also a 20th-century innovation. If you fell ill in the 19th century and couldn't afford a doctor, you were much more likely to trust the inherited folk wisdom, the local apothecary or chemist, and the kindness of friends and family. Hospitals were often places of last resort. Who should take responsibility for health was a debate raised during the 20th century.
Australia's universal health care system, Medicare, began on February 1, 1984. The first iteration of Medicare was called Medibank and was introduced by the Whitlam government in 1975, at the beginning of its second term.
Medibank started on July 1, 1975, after the legislation was passed by a joint session of Parliament on August 7, 1974. He had only a short period of operation before the Whitlam government was sacked. The new Fraser government modified Medibank, imposing a 2.5% tax on revenue to finance it (but offering the option of taking out private health insurance).
When you sign up for Medicare, some or all of your health care costs are paid by the system, however, not all medical services are covered.
Medicare helps cover the costs of part or all of the following services:
- GP (general practitioner) or specialist;
- tests and scans, such as x-rays;
- most surgeries and procedures performed by doctors;
- eye exams by optometrists.
However, Medicare does not cover:
- ambulance services;
- most dental services;
- glasses, contact lenses, and hearing aids;
- cosmetic surgery.
Medicare and Telemedicine
If the patient cannot go to an office, he/she can still make an appointment with a health professional by videoconference or telephone. This includes consultations with one of the following healthcare professionals:
- GP (General Practitioner);
- Associated health professional;
- Registered midwife.
This type of service has mass billing. Bulk billing means you don't have to pay for a healthcare professional's medical service. Instead, professionals charge and accept the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service.
It is worth mentioning that not all health professionals bill in bulk, so you will need to pay for your consultation if your health professional does not charge you in bulk. If such a payment is required, the patient can claim part of that money back with Medicare.
Billing can cover:
- visits to GPs and specialists who charge in bulk;
- tests and scans like x-rays and pathology tests;
- eye exams performed by optometrists.
Medicines and Medicare
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Program (PBS) helps you get medicines at a cheaper price. You can get additional discounts if you have a concession or health card.
Who is entitled to Medicare?
Despite being a universal public service, Medicare has some rules. Therefore, you can only apply if:
- be an Australian citizen;
- be a citizen of New Zealand;
- be a permanent resident;
- you are applying for a residence visa;
- hold a temporary visa covered by Ministerial Orders;
- adopt a child (whether of foreign or Australian origin).
OSHC - Overseas Student Health Cover
Students from abroad who wish to keep their temporary student visas up to date must maintain adequate health insurance during their stay in Australia. This means that it is necessary to purchase the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) to keep your policy up to date while in Australia on a student visa.
OSHC helps international students to afford the medical and hospital care costs they may need while in Australia. OSHC also includes ambulance coverage and limited pharmaceuticals. Some exceptions may apply to students from Sweden, Norway, or Belgium. Because the OSHC is a requirement to maintain a visa, it is important not to fail to pay insurance.
If your Medicare visa or eligibility status changes at any time, inform your insurer as soon as possible to find out if your coverage level is still adequate. When your student visa expires, you will no longer be eligible for OSHC. You can then switch to resident coverage or a health coverage plan for foreign visitors.
What does OSHC cover?
OSHC policies help to cover the costs of medical and hospital treatment. Benefits are also paid for ambulance services. For more information, it is important to consult your OSHC insurer.
OSHC does not pay for general treatments (auxiliary or extra coverages), such as dental, optical, or physical therapy services. If you need coverage for these treatments, you can take OSHC Extras provided by an OSHC provider or general treatment coverage with any Australian private health insurer. You can also choose to complement the OSHC with other insurance, such as international travel insurance.