Like New Zealand, Australia has both public and private health care systems. The public health services in Australia are provided by Medicare Australia, an Australian Government agency.
Public Health Care
As a New Zealander living in Australia you are entitled to free emergency hospital care but generally must pay full price for all non-hospital treatment (medicines, doctor visits, etc) unless you hold a Medicare card. Being a New Zealand citizen residing in Australia qualifies you for enrolment in the Medicare program, so you will want to make sure you do this soon after arriving in Australia.
Even if you don't apply for Medicare until after you have been in Australia for a while, you are entitled to retrospectively claim a wide variety of medical expenses incurred since you arrived in Australia, so long as they fall under the Medicare umbrella.
See this page of the Medicare Australia site for the latest information on the eligibility requirements for the Medicare scheme.
What Does Medicare Cover?
Medicare covers all or some of the following costs:
- consultation fees for doctors, including specialists tests and examinations by doctors needed to treat illnesses, including - X-rays and pathology tests
- eye tests performed by optometrists
- most surgical and other therapeutic procedures performed by doctors
- some surgical procedures performed by approved dentists
- specified items under the Cleft Lip and Palate Scheme
- specified items for allied health services as part of the Chronic Disease Management program
You can read the full list of what Medicare covers here.
How to Apply for Medicare
Applying for Medicare isn’t difficult as long as you can provide:
- Your New Zealand passport
- Completed application form (the PDF can be found here)
- A bank account for payment of your Medicare claims
You also need to bring any two of the following documents:
- Documents from New Zealand:
- sales of property (sale agreement)
- cessation of lease agreement for rental property
- termination of employment (acceptance of resignation by employer)
- transit document for household goods and or furniture
- closure of bank accounts
- cancellation of health, property or contents insurance
- Documents from Australia:
- purchase of property agreement and gas or electricity accounts in the same name
- lease agreement for rental of property and gas or electricity accounts in the same name
- evidence of employment
- evidence of children at school or university
- private health insurance in Australia, opening of bank accounts, property or contents insurance
When we applied, we took along our new lease and the transit document for our shipped goods. There are quite a few Medicare offices in each state, so you shouldn’t find it too difficult to locate one reasonably close to you. Find your nearest Medicare office.
If you can, we recommend going along to apply for your Medicare card during the week, as weekends are very busy and can mean a long wait. But once you do get to the front of the queue, it doesn’t take long for a staff member to check and approve your application. You will be given a temporary Medicare card until your real one(s) arrive in the mail, usually within a week.
Using Your Medicare Card
It’s a good idea to keep your Medicare Card with you at all times. Aside from using it to access health services, it can also serve as useful supporting identification.
When you first visit a doctor in Australia, they will ask you to fill out a form with your contact details, any important medical history and allergies, and provide your Medicare number.
Until recently the usual way to claim your rebate was by manually filling out a Medicare claim form and posting or dropping it off to Medicare along with your receipts. Medicare then processed your claim and put the money into your bank account or sent a cheque.
These days you can register for EasyClaim, meaning you get your rebate almost instantly into your nominated bank account after paying your doctor.
Private Health Insurance
Although Medicare ensures you have access free hospital care at public hospitals and free or subsidised doctor and specialist visits, the Australian Government also strongly encourages getting private healthcare insurance.
About 50% of Australians take out private health insurance and there are 3 major reasons why:
To cover ambulance use in emergencies.
Unlike New Zealand, ambulance services in most Australian states are not covered by public healthcare and without health insurance, the cost of using one can run into the thousands of dollars. The exception is Queensland, which does provide a free ambulance service to the lucky (or unlucky!) residents who need it.
For dental care.
Dental care is not subsidised by Medicare, except in situations when a dental problem is affecting overall health.
Financial incentives from the Australian Government.
This includes a 30% rebate on insurance premiums and an additional 1% tax levy on high income earners who don’t take out insurance. And to encourage you to get hospital cover at a young age, health insurers charge an additional 2% loading on top of your premium for every year you are aged over 30.
Many people just have ambulance/hospital cover, while people with specific needs or a family may want to get some extras.
There are lots of different health insurance providers offering various packages and choosing between them can get a bit overwhelming. We recommend using comparison sites like iSelect to help find the best package for you.
Canstar recently did a survey on the best value health insurance and awarded HCF, Bupa and Medibank Private the top places for outstanding value.
Finding Specialists In Australia
If you are currently seeing a specialist in New Zealand, ask them for a referral to a specialist in Australia before you leave.
Alternatively you can visit a GP on arrival and ask for a referral.
Having A Baby And Raising A Family In Australia
New Zealanders are entitled to all Family Assistance payments in Australia, including:
- the baby bonus if the baby is born and registered in Australia
- paid parental leave
- child care benefit
- family tax benefits
Visit the Family Assistance site for more information.
Disability And Carer Payments
Unfortunately disability and carer payments are not currently available to New Zealand citizens living in Australia...despite that fact that any New Zealand citizen working in Australia has to pay into the disability benefits scheme. This also means you can’t get a Health Care Card or a Carer’s Card (for business discounts) as these are based on the Carer’s Allowance.
If you have a child with a disability, some Kiwis have told us that New Zealand citizens may also find it difficult to access Early Intervention Services in Australia.
You can learn more here.
Still have questions about health care in Australia? Check out our discussion forum where you can ask questions that can be answered by us and other readers.