Health insurance for NZ residents
If you’re a Kiwi planning a move across the ditch to Australia, it’s important to make sure you have an adequate level of health cover in place.
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New Zealanders are able to access a wide range of health care benefits through Medicare, the basis of Australia’s public health system.
Are these benefits sufficient, or do you need to take out private health insurance to help manage your health care costs? This article will explain how health care and health insurance is handled in Australia so you know what all your options are.
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Contents of this guide
- What health care costs are covered in Australia for NZ expats?
- How does Australia's public healthcare system work?
- What are the benefits of getting health insurance while in Australia?
- What is the RHCA?
- How do I enrol in Medicare?
- Do NZ residents need a visa to come and live in Australia?
- Who provides health insurance in Australia?
Just like in New Zealand, Australia’s healthcare system is split up into public and private sectors. The public health services are provided by a government agency known as Medicare, and are funded by Australian taxpayers. If you are a New Zealander residing in Australia you are entitled to:
- Access to free emergency care in a public hospital, although you will generally have to pay for the full cost of all non-hospital treatments, such as visits to a GP and any medications.
- Cover for the cost of non-hospital treatments, such as GP visits and medication, providing you hold a Medicare card. If you don't you will generally have to pay the full cost for all medical services outside of hospital.
With this in mind, it’s worth enrolling in Medicare as soon as possible after arriving in Australia. Additionally, If you have already paid for some medical services covered by Medicare you may be able retroactively claim for them once you've signed up and received your card.
Australia’s public healthcare system is widely recognised as one of the best in the world. Medicare is available to all Australian citizens and permanent residents, including New Zealand citizens residing in Australia, and it offers complete coverage for treatment in a public hospital and complete or partial coverage for doctors’ consultations.
Medicare 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)
While Australia’s Medicare system allows New Zealanders to access a wide range of subsidised medical services, it still doesn’t get close to offering comprehensive cover for all healthcare needs. With this in mind, it’s worth considering some form of private health insurance while you are residing in Australia.
Around 50% of Australians have private health cover in place. Health insurance offers many benefits, including:
- 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.
RHCA stands for the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement. The Australian Government has agreements in place with the following countries:
- New Zealand
- The United Kingdom
- The Republic of Ireland
- The Netherlands
Under the RHCA in place with New Zealand, Kiwi citizens residing in Australia are able to access:
- Free treatment as an inpatient or an outpatient at a public hospital
- Subsidised 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.
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
While residents of New Zealand are allowed to travel to Australia without obtaining a visa, if you wish to stay in Australia you will need to obtain one. Broadly speaking, there are two types of visas available to New Zealanders:
- Permanent visas. These visas allow you to live in Australia indefinitely and access certain government benefits and services as a permanent resident.
- Temporary visas. If you hold a temporary visa, you can only remain in Australia for a limited amount of time or for a limited purpose. For example, you may come to Australia on a work or study visa.
There’s a wide range of visa options available for New Zealand citizens, and the right visa for you will depend on your personal circumstances. It’s recommended that you research the visas available through the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection to work out what you need to do to apply.
Here you can find a complete list of Australian health insurers and their eligibility criteria. If you are a New Zealand citizen in Australia on a temporary student or work visa you can see which providers offer Overseas Visitors Health Cover (OVHC) and Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).
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