Health insurance for NZ citizens living in Australia

New Zealand citizens living in Australia can apply for Medicare, but some procedures require private health insurance

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New Zealand citizens are able to access a range of health care benefits through Medicare in Australia. If you're an NZ citizen but aren't yet enrolled in Medicare, you can still access some health services with Australia and New Zealand's Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA).

However, not all health care costs are covered by the RHCA or Medicare, so you may want to take out private health insurance.

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Healthcare in Australia for NZ citizens

Just like in New Zealand, Australia's healthcare system is split up into public and private sectors:

Public system

Medicare

Public health services in Australia are provided by Medicare. If you're a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, you should be able to apply for a Medicare card which gives you access to free emergency care in a public hospital and helps pay for some non-hospital treatments such as GP visits and medication.

Surgical Extraction

Private health insurance

Private health insurance is essentially designed to cover the services that Medicare doesn't help out with. This includes most out of hospital services such as dental, physio and optical. It can also pay for ambulance services which are not free in most Australian states. Health insurance can also give you access to treatment in a private hospital.

Can NZ citizens living in Australia get access to free healthcare?

Yes. New Zealand citizens are eligible to enrol in Medicare if they:

  • Have been in Australia for six or more months in the past 12 months, either continuously or intermittently
  • Intend to stay in Australia for more than six of the next 12 months, either continuously or intermittently

You will need to supply all of the following in order to enrol in Medicare:

  • A completed Medicare enrolment application form.
  • Copies of all used passport pages for any person listed on the application.
  • Two documents to confirm your residency in Australia, such as an employment contract, enrolment in university, a rental agreement, a bank statement or an electricity account.

How does Australia's public healthcare system work?

Medicare is available to all Australian citizens and permanent residents, including New Zealand citizens residing in Australia. It provides cover for all or some of the following medical costs:

  • Free treatment and accommodation in a public hospital
  • 75% of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee for services and procedures if you’re a private patient in a public or private hospital (this does not include hospital accommodation, theatre fees or medicines)
  • Doctors’ consultation fees, including specialists
  • Tests and examinations performed by doctors, including X-rays and pathology tests
  • Most surgical and therapeutic procedures performed by doctors
  • Eye tests performed by optometrists
  • Some dental surgery procedures
  • Specified items for allied health services (as part of the Chronic Disease Management Program)

Should NZ citizens get health insurance while in Australia?

While Australia’s Medicare system allows New Zealanders to access a wide range of subsidised medical services, it only goes so far, which is largely why around half of Australians have private health cover in place. Unlike Medicare, it can help pay for the following:

  • Ambulance cover. Ambulance transportation and treatment is not covered by Medicare or any other scheme in most Australian states and territories. Getting private health insurance can help you to avoid being hit with a hefty bill for ambulance costs following an emergency.
  • Dental care. Dental services aren’t covered by Australia’s public healthcare system, and you will only be able to access cover for dental treatment if the condition is affecting your overall health. Private health insurance can provide a high level of cover for expensive dental bills.
  • Cover for other extras. Private health insurance can also provide cover for the cost of a wide range of general treatments not included under Medicare, such as optical, physio, chiro, natural therapies, remedial massage, podiatry, hearing aids and health management programs.
  • Government subsidies. In order to encourage more Australians to take out cover and reduce the burden on the public healthcare system, the Australian Government offers a 30% private health insurance rebate to help make cover more affordable.
  • Tax breaks. At the same time, Australian high-income earners who don’t take out private health cover are forced to pay extra tax in the form of the Medicare Levy Surcharge. The Lifetime Health Cover scheme also ensures that Australians who fail to take out hospital cover before their 31st birthday will need to pay extra for cover when they eventually get it.

What is the RHCA (Reciprocal Health Care Agreement)?

RHCA stands for the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement. Under the RHCA in place with New Zealand, Kiwi citizens in Australia without a Medicare card are able to access:

  • Free necessary treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient at a public hospital
  • Subsidies on some PBS medications
  • Medical treatment by doctors at day surgeries, clinics and community healthcare centres

However, despite these many benefits, the RHCA is not without limitations:

  • It doesn’t provide cover for ambulance costs, dental treatment, elective surgery or any treatment that is not immediately medically necessary.
  • It also doesn’t provide cover for treatment in a private hospital, or as a private patient in a public hospital, so you may also have to contend with lengthy public hospital waiting lists.

Due to this it's recommended not to use the RHCA as your sole medical cover and consider taking out a health insurance policy during your stay in Australia.

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