How to Access Healthcare in Australia: A Quick Start Guide.

When I first arrived in Melbourne from the UK, one of the key actions on my to-do list was to get to grips with how to access healthcare in Australia, both for myself and for the family.

Blood pressure monitor and pharmaceutic drugs
how to access healthcare in Australia

Australia has a reciprocal agreement with the UK which means you can access healthcare via the Australian national insurance scheme known as Medicare. This agreement covers medically necessary care out of hospital, medically necessary care as a public patient in a public hospital, and some prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Here’s what you need to do.

Get Your Medicare Card

We had to go to a government service centre to get our first family Medicare card.  Find your nearest here – ours was the local Centrelink office.  It is well worth checking out the Australian Government Services website to see whether, during these Covid-Safe times, you can go through the whole process online.  At the very least, you will be able to download the enrolment form and submit it via email or snail mail, or pop into your government service centre.  You will need to show ID for each name to appear on the card.  See the website for the types of ID needed.

Get yourself a myGov account

Once you receive your Medicare card in the post, you will need to set up a myGov account and link it to your Medicare online account. From here you can manage your account and view all your details, including your statements and claims history, as well as submit new claims.

Get on the App

Once you have your Medicare account linked to your myGov account, you can get a digital copy of your Medicare card via the Express Plus Medicare app. I’ve found this really useful, especially being able to access and use my Medicare card via my phone.

Find a Health Practitioner

It can initially be a bit confusing as to how to access healthcare in Australia, but my priority was to find a local GP so that we could get a general check-up and access ongoing prescription medicines. This is where it gets a bit interesting in comparison to the UK.

Medical practitioner with stethoscope
How to access healthcare in Australia

Firstly, you do not have to be in a catchment area or zone for a specific surgery. You can shop around. That said, it is good to find a GP that you like, and who gets to know your medical history. On the other hand, if all you need is a medical note for your Year 12 kid to confirm that he has an earache, it’s better to walk into a bulk-billing clinic, wait for the next available doctor and come away with the required note and no out-of-pocket expenses. The other advantage to this is that this is much quicker than waiting for an appointment with your usual practitioner. Medical evidence is required for absence from school, particularly when the student is in Year 12 and missing an important assessment/exam.

Most practices will have a website giving details of their practitioners, listing their individual experience and special interests. What you need to check first and foremost is whether your chosen practitioner works out of a private practice or a bulk-billing practice. Bulk-billing means you don’t have to pay for your medical service from a health professional. They bill Medicare instead and they accept the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service.

If your health practitioner doesn’t bulk-bill, you’ll need to pay for your appointment and may be able to claim some of it back. Always have your Medicare card with you. Often the practitioner will make the claim for you once you’ve paid – you will be reimbursed a portion of what you paid directly into your chosen bank account – usually instantly. If the practitioner does not claim on your behalf, make sure you get a printed receipt so that you can claim via your online Medicare account or the Express Plus Medicare app. To give you an idea of how much you may pay, one of my recent GP appointments (10 min duration) cost $76.00. I paid the full amount up-front, but Medicare reimbursed a benefit of $38.75, so the actual cost to me was $37.25.

We go to a private practice as it is conveniently local. This means there is always something to pay, but occasionally they throw in odd days in which some services and appointments are bulk-billed. It’s always a pleasant surprise to not have to pay anything, but always a bit of a mystery as to when these ‘free’ days are!

It is not uncommon for private practices to have multiple services on-site; for example, ours has a dentist, a podiatrist, a pharmacy, pathology services, and a dietician.

Private Health Insurance

It is important to note that certain things are not covered by Medicare, including the cost of an ambulance, should you need one. Many people take out private health insurance to ensure ambulance cover and other items that are not covered by Medicare.

Health sign made from pharmaceutical drugs
How to access healthcare in Australia

The Melbourne Mum

Thinking of emigrating to Australia? Already moved to Melbourne? Find out what it's really like to make the big move Down Under.

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