Australia has a strong international reputation for having an extremely good social security system. Part of that includes a well developed system of public healthcare through the Medicare program, which provides for subsidised appointments with a variety of health professionals, free treatment for hospital inpatients at public hospitals, and lower prescription prices for many drugs.
As great as Medicare is though, it is only available to those who are permanent residents or citizens of Australia (or New Zealand) or people who meet certain other limited and specific criteria. So what should you do if you are simply not eligible for Medicare benefits, but need to look out for your health while you’re living in Australia?
Taking out private health cover
You can choose to arrange private health insurance. Certain types of visa subclasses actually require you to hold health insurance for the duration of your stay in Australia – most notably the temporary work (skilled) visa subclass 457 and skilled graduate visa subclass 485. For further information on what your particular visa obligations are, consult with your migration agent.
Even if you are not required to hold private health insurance, there are advantages to having it in place if you are living in Australia on a longer-term visa. It can help to make sure that your health needs are looked after, especially if you have a family, and there are also tax benefits.
When you are resident in Australia, on almost every type of visa, you will be expected to pay income and other taxes. The Australian Government provides a tax rebate of 30% on premiums for those who take out private health cover. That rebate is assessed based on income tiers.
What are the key things to know?
- When arranging private health insurance, you can elect to take out hospital or “extras” cover, or both. Hospital cover is fairly self-explanatory – covering you for stays in private hospitals and your choice of doctor. Extras benefits cover dental, optical, physiotherapy, and other similar treatment options. Having either type of health cover is sufficient to obtain the taxation benefit.
- There are several reputable private health insurers in Australia, all of whom offer slightly different types of cover at different prices. Ensure that you shop around, and that you are clear on exactly what the policy covers, including whether there are any exclusions on pre-existing conditions or out-of-pocket expenses for treatment.
- As many private health insurers have waiting periods before you are eligible for certain benefits (for example, you may only be covered for obstetric services if you have cover for a full year before delivering a child) it is a good idea to look into private health insurance as soon as you touch down in Australia.
- It’s also important to note that you might pay more on your premiums if you take out cover after the age of 31. If you are a new migrant, you have either until the later of July 1 following your 31st birthday or one full calendar year after your Medicare registration to take out private health cover, or the lifetime health cover loading will apply.
- In some cases, you may be able to lower the cost of your premiums if you choose to pay a higher excess in the event that you need hospital treatment.
Making the decision
Of course, private health cover is an optional part of living in Australia and certain levels of cover may not be cheap. It is important that you make an independent assessment of whether you can afford to pay the premiums for private health insurance – or whether you can afford not to have any insurance in place, particularly if you are not eligible for Medicare benefits.
For example, if you are planning on starting a family while you are resident in Australia and you are not eligible for Medicare, then you may need to take out private health insurance to ensure that you have access to an obstetrician or midwife of your choice, and can make a decision on which hospital you prefer to deliver in. It may also be particularly important to have adequate health insurance in place if you have specific medical needs.
Private health insurance can help protect the health of you and your family while you’re living in Australia. Just make sure you compare policies before making a decision, and choose the one that fits your circumstances and budget.
If you need help with finding the appropriate health cover, contact us and we can point you in the right direction.