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One of the most important considerations for expats moving abroad is how the healthcare system works in their new country. Fortunately for expats moving to Australia, they can be confident their health is going to be well looked after as Australia is renowned for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

A mix of private and state

The Australian approach to healthcare involves a mix of both private and state care – and unusual as it sounds it really works! Australia’s system of universal medical cover is called Medicare and it was introduced in 1984. All taxpayers in Australia contribute 2% towards Medicare (with exceptions for low-income earners) and an extra 1.5% levy is placed on high-income earners who don’t have private health insurance.  The central government covers the shortfall.

What is covered and what is not

Medicare covers people 100% for their in-hospital care, around 75% of your primary general practitioner costs and 85% of any specialists costs. The remainder of health costs (called out-of-pocket costs) have to be covered by the patient. If you want to go to a private hospital, Medicare will cover costs to the level incurred in a state hospital. In terms of medication, patients are expected to pay around AU$35.40 per prescription and then the state pays for anything above this. Once a family has paid a total of more than AU$1317 a year, charges are waived. Fees for dentistry, optometry and ambulance transport are not reimbursed under Medicare.

Private health insurance

To cover these and other out-of-pocket expenses, many people take out private health insurance. The government actively encourages this with their 1.5% extra levy on high-income earners who don’t have private healthcare. In addition, the state also subsidises premiums for all private insurance cover. Policyholders are reimbursed 30% and 35% between the ages of 65-69. There are generally two types of private health insurance plans. The first of these are hospital plans, which are designed to top up in-patient costs in private hospital systems. The second type is a more general treatment scheme, which covers these expenses plus additional expenses like dentistry and optometry.

Why the Australian system works

The Australian healthcare system works because it has avoided the worst bits of all-out private care as exemplified by South Africa and the US – where private care comes at an extremely high cost and low-income earners battle to get quality care. It also escapes a lot of the fully state-funded system’s problems – like the NHS – which include lack of physician choice, treatment delays and questionable quality of care at some practices and hospitals.

What expats need to be aware of

Expats moving to Australia who are just on a working visa need to prove to the Australian authorities that they are adequately covered by a minimum level of private health insurance to be granted their visa. If you are a permanent resident in Australia, you will be entitled to access the Medicare system. Expats who originate from countries that have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Australia may be entitled to Medicare or the following services:

  • Free treatment at a public hospital either as an in-patient or out-patient
  • Subsidised medicines
  • Out-of-hospital medical treatment

If you are a South African living in Australia and would like to know more about how you can maximise your expat wealth through financial emigration, accessing your South African retirement annuity and our tailor-made tax solutions for South Africans around the world, contact FinGlobal today.