Understanding the medical system in Australia
The Australian healthcare system provides a wide range of services. From population health and prevention through to general practice and community health, emergency health services and hospital care, all facets of care are provided to a world standard.
What to do
Primary health care is the first port of call for most people who are ill. Primary care is provided by doctors, along with community nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other allied health professionals.
General practitioners (GPs) working in primary care provide initial referral to patients to a range of health care specialists and services including diagnostic tests (pathology and imaging), a broad range of specialist consultants and in some cases immediate admission to hospital for inpatient care.
What is Medicare?
Medicare provides financial assistance in the form of a rebate for services provided to patients for services provided out of the hospital setting. Medicare provides a safety net for Australian citizens to access free or lower-cost medical care. If you hold a Medicare care card you can claim benefits and payments for healthcare services.
All international students in Australia are legally required to have Overseas Health insurance for the duration of their studies. The Overseas Health insurance held by students provides rebates for services provided to students although all services may not be free or subsidised, a gap payment may be required. It is important for all those seeking medical services to ask questions and gain information regarding potential out of pocket costs associated with medical treatment.
Public and private hospitals
Hospital services in Australia are provided by both the public and private sectors. Public hospitals are owned and managed by state and territory governments. Private hospitals are owned and operated by the private sector but licensed and regulated by governments.
Medicare provides access to free treatment and accommodation in a public hospital for Australian residents and overseas visitors from countries with a reciprocal arrangement. International students must seek information from their insurance company regarding the cover provided for hospital inpatient admissions, international students are best to attend a public hospital if admission is required.
Private health insurance
If you have private health insurance, you receive some funding to cover the costs of care in a private hospital. You are also able to use a public hospital, although you will be charged for it.
There are two types of private health insurance cover available: hospital and general (also called ‘ancillary’ or ‘extras’ covering things like physiotherapy and dental services).
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) ensures that Australians have access to affordable medicines. The PBS subsidises the cost of prescription medicines so that Australians can access a wide range of medicines without having to pay full price.
Medicines are also available over the counter, without a prescription, but these are generally not subsidised.
More help and advice
- Learn more on the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care website.
- Learn more about Medicare.
- Learn more about private health insurance.
- Contact National Home Doctor for after-hours visits from 6pm on weekdays, 12pm on Saturdays and all day on Sundays and public holidays. Call 13 74 25 or visit their website.