Going to the Doctors: Australia and UK Compared

magazineLet’s press on with a reprint of another one of my articles for Australia and New Zealand magazine. I know a lot of people considering a move to Australia have concerns about our health system. After all, the NHS in the UK is free and healthcare in Australia isn’t.

Let’s clear that up a little; firstly, nothing is really free, it all comes out of taxes one way or another. Secondly, it is possible to get healthcare in Australia without the need of paying anything over and above your standard contributions through the tax system.

Tax though, is a separate subject, and I have dealt with it for this financial year in my post called Individual Income Tax Rates Australia and UK Compared 2015/16. In this post we are just going to look at why, how and when Australians have to pay up when they visit the doctors.

This article appeared in the magazines March edition earlier this year and was called going to the doctor.

Going to the doctor

doctors visitsWhat is wrong with me?

Well, there is certainly not enough room in this one page article to cover everything, but trust me, sometimes there are things wrong with me. For some of them, but by no means all, I need to go to the doctors for answers.

Going to the doctors in Australia is a bit different from going to the doctors in the UK, but how different? What’s life like without the NHS? Let’s see if I can answer these questions and maybe one or two more.

I had the same doctor in the UK for well over 20 years and I’ve been with the same doctor here in Australia since I arrived. Both doctors are equally capable of telling me what’s wrong with me. The big difference is that when I see my doctor here, I have to pay him. The price has risen steadily over the years, but it’s currently $82 for a standard visit.

The government though, through what is called Medicare, give me $36.30 back. As all these payments are electronic and because I have some geeky software, I can tell you with absolute certainty that my wife, myself and my daughter Elizabeth have visited the doctors 40 times in 8 years here in Australia. I’ve certainly had the lion’s share of those visits, that’s what happens when you continue to try and play football when it would have been far more sensible to hang up your boots.

Some of our visits were to specialists who usually cost more, anything from $160.00 to, at most (for us so far anyway) $440. Medicare always gives us something back though, normally approaching half the fee. Because my software is really quite nerdy, I can tell you that we have paid, after refunds, $2278 which works out at less than $300 a year or, as you would call it, 150 quid to visit the doctors.

Apart from the money, what else is different?

Well, it’s very noticeable that my Australian doctor appears to be under much less pressure than my UK one. As a result, he spends much more time with me, about twice as long per visit. UK visits always seemed rushed.

When I need an x-ray, and I’ve needed plenty of x-rays, my doctor writes me out a script for it and I can go to any one of the hundreds of privately run pathology departments littered around the city.

The X-Ray Shop.These x-rays are by appointment and are very often free after the Medicare refund, although for some there might be a ‘gap’. The gap is the difference you pay between the full cost and the refund and in my view, money well spent. Beats queueing up at an NHS hospital’s A&E departments in the UK.

If you don’t want to pay for a doctor though, you don’t have to. There are some doctors happy to charge only the $36.30 that the government would have given back to the patient. This is called bulk billing and it means there’s no gap. Nothing to pay.

So no, I don’t miss the NHS. But what happens when something really goes wrong and you need a major operation? Will you have to pay? Do you need insurance? I recently found out first-hand and I’ll tell you all about it next month.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • djmcbell June 1, 2016, 11:32 pm | Link

    Our current GP surgery here in the UK has just given us a leaflet detailing how they are changing from next week onwards.

    Currently, you can ring up the doctors and try to get an appointment for that day. However, they are under a lot of pressure and all the appointments will get taken up very quickly (even with about 6 or 7 GPs running from the same surgery). Lines open at 8am and, if you don’t call literally on the dot, you haven’t much of a chance for a same-day appointment. I’ve rung at 8am before and gotten the standard “we’re closed” message, and then rung 5 seconds later and gotten “you are number 23 in the queue”.

    But, as of next week, it’s all change. When you ring up or go in, you have to tell the receptionist what is wrong with you. They will then decide how urgent your needs are compared to other people, and only those most urgent will get seen that day – everyone else will be offered appointments within the next few days (though I’m unsure whether they’d get bumped if people with more serious ailments need them).

    It’s more than a bit concerning, but with any luck we shouldn’t have to experience that before we get to Oz!

    • BobinOz June 2, 2016, 7:16 pm | Link

      Well, I hope the receptionist is medically trained, because that quite some responsibility deciding who gets to see the doctor on the day and who doesn’t. I can’t speak for all doctors in Australia, but I’ve personally never had a problem making an appointment, the receptionist asks me if it’s urgent or not.

      I’m not saying all doctors surgeries are like that, I actually think it’s very possible that the bulk billing doctors, the ones who do not charge any extra above what the government will pay them are probably much busier and therefore harder to make an appointment for than the ones that do charge the extra.

      Personally, for the amount of money it costs per year, I’m happy to pay the extra to get a quick service and not feel rushed when I am in with the doctor. My doctor is always quite chatty, it’s not unusual for a visit to take 20 to 30 minutes or even more.

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