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Insurance for overseas medical costs

Will your Australian health fund cover your overseas medical costs? Read on to find out.

Australian private health funds offer Australia-wide cover for a wide range of medical, hospital and health care expenses, but what about medical costs incurred overseas? For example, will your health insurance provide cover if you’re involved in an accident and suffer a serious injury while on holiday or if you’re planning a trip overseas to go under the knife for cosmetic surgery?

The answer is no. Health insurance does not cover overseas medical expenses, but there are some other cover options available to help you pay your doctor’s bills.

Does health insurance cover you overseas?

No. Australian private health funds only provide cover for medical and hospital expenses you incur in Australia. Private health insurance hospital cover can provide benefits for any medical service listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), but Medicare only provides cover for medical expenses incurred in Australia, not overseas.

With this in mind, you’ll need to consider travel insurance or one of the other options listed below if you want cover for overseas medical expenses.

Does health insurance cover overseas cosmetic surgery?

The practice of going overseas for cosmetic surgery, commonly referred to as medical tourism, is on the rise in Australia. However, health insurance doesn’t cover overseas cosmetic surgery costs for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is because Australian private health insurance will only cover you in Australia. The second reason is that health insurance only covers services for which Medicare pays a benefit, and Medicare doesn’t pay any benefits for surgery conducted for purely cosmetic purposes. So if you’re planning on going overseas to go under the knife, don’t expect your health fund to cover the costs.

What options are available to cover overseas medical expenses?

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is the first port of call when looking for protection against the cost of overseas medical expenses. Travel insurance policies provide cover for emergency hospital and medical expenses you may incur while overseas, including things like hospital accommodation, surgical fees and even ambulance transport. Emergency dental costs are typically included as well. Travel insurance can also cover additional accommodation and travel costs that arise if you have to remain overseas for longer than planned due to medical reasons.

Many countries require you to take out an adequate level of medical travel insurance cover before you can gain visa approval, so it’s essential that you consider your cover needs before you go overseas.

Compare travel insurance from Australian brands

Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCAs)

The Australian Government has RHCAs in place with the governments of 11 other countries around the world. Under these agreements, Australian citizens visiting those countries can receive subsidised access to essential health care.

Australia has RHCAs in place with the following countries:

  • The United Kingdom
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • Sweden
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Slovenia

Learn more about the reciprocal healthcare agreement

Medical tourism cover

While private health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of overseas elective cosmetic surgery, there are options available for people considering indulging in a spot of medical tourism.

In 2014, health fund nib launched its nib Options cosmetic surgery and dental service. While not health insurance as such, nib Options is a fee-for-service product which connects Australian customers with cosmetic and dental surgeons and medical facilities in Thailand. This includes organising medical consultations for patients and also arranging airfares, transfers and accommodation for anyone wanting to undergo a breast, body, face or dental procedure overseas.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of travel insurers will not provide any cover for elective cosmetic surgery overseas, as travel insurance typically only covers the unexpected medical expenses you incur while abroad. However, Go Insurance does offer a Dental Tourism Insurance policy, which covers trip cancellation costs, emergency dental expenses if there are any complications with your procedure, and additional transport and accommodation costs if complications mean you need to stay overseas longer than originally planned.

Medical Treatment Overseas Program

The Medical Treatment Overseas Program is an Australian Government program that offers financial assistance to Australians who suffer serious medical conditions and need to seek life-saving treatment overseas. As well as your overseas medical expenses, the program can cover travel and accommodation costs for you and a carer, travel insurance, and passport and visa costs.

You’ll need to satisfy a range of criteria in order to qualify for financial support under the program. For example, the medical treatment must not be available in Australia, and it must be deemed by the Department of Health to be “significantly life extending and potentially curative”. Our guide to the Medical Treatment Overseas Program contains everything you need to know about accessing this potentially life-saving funding.

Learn more about the medical treatment overseas program

Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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