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Health Care in Australia


International students who are planning to study in Australia should first familiarize themselves with Australia’s health care system. It is important to be aware of the quality and workings of the health care available to you, in case the unexpected should happen.

Healthcare in Australia has been steadily improving over the last ten years. Life expectancy for men in Australia has increased to 78 years and 83 years for women, one of the highest life expectancy rates among developed countries. Infant mortality in Australia is as low as 4.3 deaths per 1,000 population. The most common health concerns in Australia are skin cancer, heat stroke, obesity, diabetes, dengue fever, and other chronic diseases common to developed countries.

Universal Health Care in Australia

Australia achieves universal health coverage through Medicare, which was founded in 1984. Medicare is a tax-funded public insurance program that covers most medical care, such as physician and hospital services and prescription drugs. Its purpose is to provide affordable, high quality health care for all Australian residents, regardless of their circumstances. Medicare subsidizes services and prescription medications from pharmacies, provides free treatment in public hospitals, and provides free or subsidized payments to health professionals for specific services.

The federal government regulates most health services in Australia, but the states and territories have responsibility for public hospital care. The government is estimated to fund about 70% of Australia’s health care expenditure, with 67% of that cost taken on by the federal government, covering three national subsidy schemes, Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and a 30% Private Health Insurance Rebate. The states and territories of Australia cover the remaining 33%.

Private Health Insurance in Australia

Roughly half of Australian citizens receive additional insurance coverage through private insurance, subsidized by the government. This covers services such as dental care and private hospitals. Private health insurance represents about 11% of health care funding in Australia. It allows patients to have a wider choice of doctors and hospitals, and to choose the timing of a procedure. Private health insurance can be used in private hospitals, or by patients in public hospitals who wish to be treated as private patients. It also covers some medical services not covered by Medicare, such as optical, physiotherapy, podiatry, and dental services. The Australian government provides a subsidy equivalent to 30% of the insurance premiums for those who are subscribed to private health insurance, and facilitates payment of reduced premiums to health funds or directly to contributors as alternative payments.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is a publicly-funded, comprehensive program that reimburses pharmacists for the costs of dispensing prescribed medicines. It does this in accordance with a comprehensive national formula. The PBS operates under Australia’s National Medicines Policy, and is a vital part of Medicare. Its objective is “to provide timely access to the medicines that Australians need, at a cost individuals and the community can afford.” The PBS is available to all Australians, as well as international guests from countries that have a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia.

Health Care for International Visitors in Australia

Medicare benefits are available to visitors coming to Australia from countries that have a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. These countries include the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Slovenia, Malta, and Italy. The length of your coverage depends on where you are visiting from. Residents of New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Finland, or Norway are covered for the entire length of their stay; residents of Belgium, the Netherlands, or Slovenia are covered until the expiration date on their European Health Insurance card, or until the end of their stay in Australia, whichever comes first; residents of Malta or Italy are covered by Medicare for six months following the date of their arrival in Australia.

If you are not from any of these countries, you can avail of comprehensive private health insurance to cover you during your stay in Australia.

Health Care for International Students in Australia

Visitors in Australia under a student visa (with the exception of students from Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden) are required to take out Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) during their stay. If you are in Australia on a student visa from the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy, or New Zealand, you are covered by Medicare. Students visiting Australia from Norway, Finland, Malta, and the Republic of Ireland are not covered by their country’s reciprocal health care agreement with Australia.

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