And one that I’ve not yet got my head fully around even though I have now lived here almost 6 years. I’ve had quite a few close encounters of the medical kind since being here though, so I can sum it up my own few words.
“It works very well, but it is more expensive getting treatment.”
Last week I described what happened when Mrs Bobinoz broke her leg, today let’s be a little more specific about health care in Australia.
Visiting the doctor
Whenever I’ve needed to see my doctor I’ve never had to wait too long for the appointment. On arrival at the reception, I’ve usually been seen pretty quickly as well, on average I’d say between 20 and 30 minutes wait.
When I do have my consultation with the doctor, it’s really laid-back, he appears to have all the time in the world to chat and deal with my problems. It’s not like he’s itching to push me out of the door with a prescription and say “NEXT!” as fast as he can.
But that’s only my experience with my doctor in an outer suburb of Brisbane. What happens in Sydney, Melbourne or even Tin Can Bay for that matter, I don’t know. But what you might like to know is that according to KFF.org there are 38.5 doctors for every 10,000 people in Australia whereas there are only 27.7 per 10,000 in the UK. (USA is 24.2.)
I do have to pay to see my doctor though; it used to be $70 per visit but has recently gone up to $80. Not all doctors charge the same; I’ve heard there’s a doctor not far from me who only charges $45. I’m sure some charge more than $80 as well. So it probably pays to shop around for a doctor.
Medicare does give me a rebate on that though of $35.60, so I end up paying $44.40.
Who is Medicare?
Operated by the government, Medicare is Australia’s health care system. Australian residents get issued with a Medicare card which has to be presented for all medical encounters.
Medicare is funded publicly via an income tax surcharge which is used to give rebates for certain health care costs. A good example is the money I get back after visiting the doctor. Rebates can also be available for certain specialist consultation fees, tests, examinations, eye checks, x-rays and some surgery.
You will have to pay for your own prescription as we always called it back in the UK, but ‘script’ as it is referred to here. Many necessary medicines are subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). That’s another scheme operated by the Australian Government to ensure that Australian residents can afford to pay for a wide range of essential medications.
Those on a low income will get a ‘concession’ and will therefore get their medicines at a lower cost, sometimes as low as $5.80 per script.
The closest I’ve come to testing this one out was when I splashed chlorine in my eye, and I’m really not keen to test it out further.
In other countries, notably the USA, you hear stories (hopefully exaggerated) of people being in serious accidents and paramedics searching their bodies for their private healthcare cards before doing anything.
I honestly don’t know if that is true or not, but I do know that it doesn’t happen here.
If you are in an accident and need emergency treatment, you will get picked up by an ambulance and they will try to find out if you have private health insurance that covers hospital care or not. If you do, they’ll probably take you to the nearest private hospital, if you don’t then they’ll take you to the nearest state hospital.
Either way you will get treated. You may have to pay for the ambulance ride, see my post Ambulance Fees in Australia – State to State.
Private health insurance
So, I’ve mentioned private health insurance, is it essential?
No, but it is useful and there are incentives from the government to get it by way of tax relief.
Competition is rife in the private healthcare market and there are plenty of providers with lots of very complicated plans. We use Medibank Private who were government-owned but have since been privatised. They compete with the other privately owned health funds. I couldn’t tell you if they are the best option though, they are run like any other business and pay tax and are regulated in the same way as the private health funds.
I believe there are two kinds of private health insurances, the more expensive one covers hospital treatment and the cheaper one, which we have, just covers general treatments like physiotherapy, dentistry, psychology, prescription spectacles and the like.
We pay $91 per month for a family policy which is tax deductible. We probably get our money’s worth just from prescription glasses and dentistry.
It has to be remembered though that whichever insurance policy you go for, it’s highly unlikely it will cover everything. They are just insurance policies that have limits and some things simply aren’t covered.
Comparing insurance policies is probably a nightmare, which is why I have never tried to do it either for this website or for my own personal benefit.
There, that was easy, wasn’t it? Except its way more complicated than that. Also, this is just my experience explaining how I see the Australian health care system based on what has happened to me since I’ve been here.
If you really want to know how it works, I have some suggested reading for you. These are the best websites I’ve found on the subject:
- Australian health system: how it works by MyDr
- Expat guide to Australia: health care by The Telegraph
- Health system explained by Medibank
I have been very happy with the health care system here so far, at all levels we have been treated speedily, professionally and successfully. It does cost more though than we have been used to in the UK with the NHS.
It takes some getting used to, paying for the doctor after your consultation and I have been known to “do a runner” by forgetting to pay after a visit and just walking out.
No police showed up though, I just got a polite letter in the post a couple of days later.
Sometimes though, when the service is so much quicker I do think that it’s worth paying the money, so I don’t have too many complaints.
Maybe as I get older and more goes wrong with me, perhaps I might find myself waiting for a replacement hip or something, I might not have the same opinion.
I might even get downright grumpy. Hopefully the PBS will subsidise my happy pills.