Australia’s health care system, like many others, is somewhat of a hybrid system. Like the UK, health care is provided by both the state and private enterprise. This means that it’s funded by both the state and Medicare health insurance (taxpayer subsidy). Not-for-profit organisations also have their influence in the industry.
Thus, the experience of the recipient can be either strictly public or private. The idea underpinning it is that healthcare should be accessible to all no matter the circumstances and that this is a feature of a civilised society.
Essentially, Medicare provides payments for your healthcare, so you either get them for free or at a very cheap cost. Medicare is available to Australian citizens and permanent visa holders — and you must register and complete some admin, which takes around a week. If you’re visiting only on a holiday visa, it would be advisable to arrange healthcare insurance before entering the country.
The only exception in which you’re eligible for Medicare despite being on a temporary visa is if you’re a citizen of a country from the following:
- New Zealand
- Republic of Ireland
Just because private hospitals are private, it doesn’t make them automatically better. It can sometimes mean that waiting lists are shorter, but overall public hospitals offer a wider variety of “services”. Australian health care is considered to be very good and upholds a high standard. There is an issue however of distribution. Given the country’s large mass size, health care isn’t necessarily evenly distributed, meaning that some areas will receive inferior health care to others. Generally, the major metropolises have the best infrastructure, with suburbs and finally rural areas having fewer resources.
The costs of healthcare under Medicare
Australian taxpayers pay 1.5% of their income to Medicare, whilst higher earners pay 2.5%. The rest is “funded by the government” (though, it’s clear that this money comes from taxpayers still). This Medicare Levy essentially funds public health care and subsidises private health care. Thus, 100% of costs are covered in state-funded hospitals, and 75% of the costs of GP chargers.
For private health care, you will essentially be covered for the cost as if it were a public service. So, the Government pays out the same whether you’re using private or public. Of course, private health care services will be more than this amount, so it’s up to you to pay the rest. This could be half of the funding, but it differs depending on the treatment/services.
Instead of paying for the excess yourself when using private health care, you can get private medical insurance. This will work just like any other insurance, in which monthly/annual premiums will result in coverage by the insurer.
Around 57% of Australians have private health care insurance, which is likely a reflection on not wanting the longer waiting times of public hospitals in case of needing immediate treatment. It should be noted that Medicare does not cover ambulance costs, or dentistry and optometry.
How will the Australian Healthcare system deal with a COVID-19 pandemic?
The Department of Health actually published its Management Plan for a Pandemic Influenza in August 2019 — convenient timing. As Mike Tyson once said, though, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. As it stands, Australian hospitals are not overwhelmed with patients, unlike Italy. This is because they do not have as many cases. Given that the expectation is that we are all going to have an outbreak similar to Italy, Australian hospitals are “preparing for war” currently.
Social distancing measures taken by the government has meant that there’s currently a quiet period. But it’s believed to be the calm before the storm, so to speak, unless Australia’s social distancing is a lot more effective than Europe’s and North America’s.
The advantage that Australia has though, that Italy and Spain were not afforded with, is time. Unlike these two (and others), Australia has been given a significant heads up on what can happen. This means they’re converting places into hospitals before they’re needed. Given that the virus spreads more quickly in dense cities, it will be the metropolitan hospitals that are preparing the hardest.
As we can see, data from Worldmeters shows that Australia’s cases (left) aren’t exponential unlike the global data (right). This means that whilst the world cases are rising at an increasing rate, Australia’s are rising at a decreasing rate. This could be down to being in the very early stages, however. As we know, the more people have it, the more quickly it spreads, because it’s more difficult to contain. The reality is that no country can predict the extent to which it will be hit.