Is There Such a Thing As Medicare Travel Insurance?

Think Medicare will cover you overseas? Think Again ... Why you can't afford to go anywhere without travel insurance

Australia’s health care system is one of the better ones in the world, with the cost of many essential medical and hospital expenses covered by Medicare.

Many people are unsure whether or not Medicare provides the same level of protection when they are travelling overseas. While the Australian Government has agreements in place with some countries, Medicare does not provide medical cover overseas. 

There are 11 countries that the Australian government has a reciprocal health care agreement with. This agreement allows Aussie travellers access to the countries public healthcare system.

However, if you’re travelling to any other country, you’ll need to take out an overseas travel insurance policy to ensure that you are protected against expensive medical costs.

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I have private health insurance, does that cover me overseas?

Private health insurance provides cover when you fall ill or are injured in Australia, but it doesn’t provide any protection when you’re overseas. Even if you’re on a cruise ship holiday in Australian waters, don’t expect your private health insurer to provide the coverage you need.

Without the protection of Medicare or private health insurance, travel insurance is a must. Travel insurance provides coverage for a broad range of risks and incidents including:

  • overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses
  • ambulance transportation
  • repatriation back to Australia.

There are travel insurance policies available to suit a wide range of budgets, with even basic policies including financial protection against overseas medical expenses. If you want further savings on your Medicare travel insurance, you may even be able to take advantage of a multi-policy discount by bundling your private health cover and travel insurance with the same provider.

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What is a reciprocal health care agreement and how does it work?

A reciprocal health care agreement is an accord between the two countries that allows travellers from participating countries access to that countries public healthcare system. When Australian residents are travelling in one of these countries, the cost of essential medical treatment they need is covered. In short, it’s somewhat like Medicare for overseas.

Luckily, Australia has agreements with countries with good healthcare systems. In fact, only two countries healthcare systems are rank lower than Australia (32) in the World Health Organisation’s world’s health systems rankings:

  1. New Zealand (41)
  2. the United Kingdom (18)
  3. Ireland (18)
  4. Sweden (23)
  5. the Netherlands (17)
  6. Finland (31)
  1. Italy (2)
  2. Belgium (21)
  3. Malta (5)
  4. Slovenia (38)
  5. Norway. (11)

So, while Australian residents can get assistance to cover the cost of essential medical treatment when they visit those countries, the vice versa applies when residents of those 11 countries visit Australia.

However, it’s important to point out that students from Norway, Finland, Malta and the Ireland aren’t covered by reciprocal health care agreements. The agreements also aren’t designed to replace the medical cover included in a travel insurance policy, as the level of cover they provide is simply not high enough to provide adequate financial protection.

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Am I covered my medicare if I am on a cruise in Australia?

If you think you’ll be covered for medical expenses you may incur while on a cruise ship in Australian waters, chances are you’re wrong. Even though you’re not travelling internationally, the doctor treating you on the cruise ship may not be registered to practice in Australia.

The exact cover offered by Medicare for cruise passengers is detailed on the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website:

Medicare benefits are only available to cruise passengers who are travelling between two Australian ports, with no stops outside Australia along the way, and if the medical services they receive are provided by a Medicare-eligible doctor.

As mentioned above, cover will not be provided by your private health insurance policy either, so your best bet is to take out a travel insurance policy that will cover your medical costs.  Make sure you have read your policy document thoroughly, as some providers require you take out a cruise travel insurance policy additional option.

Find out more about domestic travel insurance

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Should I suspend my private health insurance while overseas?

If you’re planning an extended trip overseas it could be worth your while to suspend your private health insurance cover until you return to Australia. As you won’t be using your private health cover while you’re abroad – the medical protection you need will be provided by your travel insurance policy – you can save money by putting your health insurance on hold and avoiding having to pay premiums. In fact, many private health insurers now offer travel insurance policies, which means you may even be able to get a multi-policy discount.

Suspending your cover is usually quick and easy to do with most providers, though certain restrictions and conditions may apply. A minimum suspension period of 30 days usually applies, while the average maximum suspension period is nine months. You’ll usually also have to have previously been a member of the health fund for a certain period of time and be up to date with your payments.

Once you return to Australia it’s simple to re-start your private health insurance cover.

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What travel insurance should I get?

You have plenty of options to choose from when shopping for travel insurance, and finding the right policy for your needs will depend on your budget and the type of holiday you are planning. Most providers will offer at least three levels of cover: basic, mid-level and comprehensive.

  • Basic policies typically provide cover for only the essentials, which usually includes overseas medical expenses and personal liability.
  • Mid-level policies will add risks such as cancellation fees and lost deposits, lost or stolen luggage and more to the list of cover.
  • A comprehensive policy, meanwhile, contains cover for an extremely broad range of risks and to a high level. Everything from medical expenses to rental vehicle excess and travel delay expenses are covered by such policies, so they’re perfect for those looking for the highest level of protection.

Next, decide on the type of policy you would like to take out:

  • Single trip cover. As the name implies, single trip travel insurance of policy covers you for the duration of a nominated journey.
  • Annual multi-trip cover. Frequent travellers can save a lot of money by investing in an annual travel insurance policy, which covers multiple trips over a 12-month period.

When you’re shopping around for cover, make sure to compare the list of benefits included in a number of competing policies. Ask yourself:

  • Does one policy offer a higher level of cover than others? Know the limits of the policies you are comparing. Looks for ones that provide high levels of medical cover.
  • How does it treat pre-existing medical conditions? If you have an existing medical condition, be sure to let you're insurer know. Don't try and slip anything by them as this will only result in your policy being voided should you need to make a claim.
  • What are the exclusions that apply to each policy? The last thing you want is to end up with an unpleasant surprise when you make a claim.
  • Are the activities I'm going to participate in covered? Finally, if you’re planning on going skiing or perhaps something more adventurous, you may wish to add an extra cover option to your policy.

Okay, I need to get some travel insurance

Wherever you’re planning on travelling around the world, travel insurance is vital to ensure your peace of mind and financial security. Just make sure to shop around and do your research to guarantee that you end up with the right policy for your requirements.

Apply for travel insurance today

Richard Laycock

Richard is the senior insurance writer at finder.com.au and is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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2 Responses to Is There Such a Thing As Medicare Travel Insurance?

  1. Default Gravatar
    Lian | June 7, 2015

    I am going for a student exchange program in Netherlands. As mentioned, Australia has a reciprocal health agreement with Netherlands, do I still need to purchase any insurance or just basic coverage for list luggage,etc..

    • Staff
      Richard | June 9, 2015

      Hi Lian,

      Thanks for your question. It depends on how much cover you want or are required to have. Some exchange programs require students to purchase health insurance, so that is something you’ll need to check with your provider. Additionally, the reciprocal health agreement gives you access to their level of Medicare, so you are only entitled to cover as a public patient.

      If you’re interested in taking out travel insurance, you can compare quotes from our providers by entering your travel details into the form above.

      I hope this was helpful,
      Richard

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