Australia - Healthcare and Medicare advice for backpackers

What is Medicare?

Chances are unless you are the bionic man you might need to see a doctor during your time away. Australia has an excellent healthcare system and with doctors, pharmacies and hospitals in all the major areas it is never hard to get treatment although. Medicare is the government system of healthcare in Australia. If you are from the UK its equivalent would be the NHS.

In order to receive free or subsidised treatment your country of birth must have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia. Currently there are agreements with New Zealand, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Malta and Ireland. If you are from one of these countries then you will be able to visit the doctor and receive medical help either free or for a reduced fee and also obtain subsidised prescriptions

Do I need a Medicare card and how do I get one?
If you are lucky enough to come from a country with a reciprocal arrangement then you need to get a Medicare card if you wish to receive free or subsidised treatment. This is a credit card sized card which has a unique number on it and shows that you are eligible to receive treatment under the scheme. Getting one is simple and you simply need to go to a Medicare office, located in most towns and suburbs, with your passport and visa label and fill out the form. They will then issue you a temporary number on the spot and post you your plastic card. To locate your nearest medicare office and more information visit the Medicare website
or down load the application form

As you never know what might happen it is advised to apply for your card as soon as you can but you must be in Australia to apply and also apply in person.

What Happens if I do not have a Medicare card?
If you do not have a Medicare card or are not eligible to receive one you can still seek medical help at hospitals and doctors but you will be charged for the treatment. Depending on your travel insurance you should be able to claim these costs back from your insurance company. If you are from reciprocal country then you will have to still pay if you do not / have not been to apply for your card. Showing your passport will not suffice! Costs are reasonable by international standards. Medicare does also not cover all treatments.

What is Bulk billing?
Ever been to the supermarket and the counter where you take a ticket and wait your turn to be served? Well bulk billing is similar. Without getting too complex the easiest way to see a doctor is to attend a bulk billing practice. Most of the large medical centres in towns and suburbs offer this service. You turn up, show your Medicare card and then wait until the next available doctor can see you. By using a bulk billing practice you do not have to pay for your consultation, provided you show your card. However, most will not allow you to make appointment times or see a specific doctor. You can also attend any surgery but if they do not offer bulk billing you will be required to pay, even if you have a Medicare card, and then claim a proportion back from Medicare. Hospitals A & E departments work pretty much the same. Turn up show your card and receive treatment. If you do not have a medicare card you will have to pay.The motto of the story is "If your eligible for Medicare get a card as soon as you can." 

Medical Travel Insurance
Nothing beats a good travel insurance policy. You might not be bothered about someone stealing your stuff but am sure your loved ones back home would be distraught to get a large bill if you have an accident. Accidents do happen and costs can be extortionate, especially if you need to be flown home. Make sure you are covered for any extra / dangerous activities you may think about doing, eg sky diving. Yes we know it can seem costly when you buy it and you think it will never happen but if it does happen then health insurance will be the best thing you purchased!

Prescription Medicines
If you are taking prescription medicines you would be advise to bring a supply with you. Although Australia is likely to have the same medicines available it is often easier to bring them yourselves. If you do bring medicines in then you must ensure that it is legal to do so. Some prescription medicines are not permitted in Australia so check for further information here

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