If you are visiting from overseas, you generally are not covered under Australia’s public Medicare system for medical or hospital expenses. This means that if you need medical attention while you are visiting Australia you could find yourself responsible for significant costs.
You should consider taking Overseas Visitors Health Cover (OVHC) to insure against potential expenses. In some cases, it may be a condition of your visa to hold a form of OVHC.
Overseas Visitors Health Cover (OVHC) is a form of health insurance which is designed for visitors to Australia who do not have access to Australia’s public Medicare system for medical or hospital expenses. OVHC insures against potential expenses you may incur if you require medical or hospital treatment.
What does OVHC Cover?
Every OVHC policy will differ in costs, eligibility and benefits. However, most policies should cover you for medically-required hospital admissions and a portion of doctor’s fees.
In addition to cover for hospital and medical expenses, you can also purchase General Treatment cover. General Treatment cover pays benefits towards the services of health care providers in private practice such as dentists, optometrists and physiotherapists. Insurance can cover part of these costs, though you would still need to cover part of the fees yourself.
Lifetime Health Cover and the private health insurance rebate do not apply to overseas visitors’ health cover. Goods and Services Tax (GST) is applied to the cost of overseas visitors’ health cover purchases.
What may not be covered?
Take care when you are purchasing cover as some plans will have lower benefits or no benefits for certain types of treatment, and waiting periods can vary – some policies may permanently exclude cover for pre-existing illnesses, meaning that such illnesses can never be covered. See the Tips on health insurance for visitors for further information about what you should look for when purchasing cover.
Most overseas visitors’ health cover products have limited cover for pharmaceuticals. Overseas visitors may face significant out-of-pocket costs if they need treatment with pharmaceuticals, particularly cancer treatment.
Travellers entering Australia may bring in medicines and medical devices for immediate use and to import small quantities for personal use. For more information see the Therapeutic Goods Administration website – Entering Australia and Personal Importation Scheme.
Where can I purchase OVHC?
You can purchase cover for visitors to Australia from some health insurers and some general insurers based in Australia. You can also opt to be covered by insurance policies issued in other countries. Remember, if you are on a visa with specific health insurance conditions, you need to purchase the type and level of health insurance specified by your visa.
The internet is a good way to locate insurance cover for visitors. We suggest you search for “Overseas Visitors Insurance” or “Overseas Visitors Health Cover” in a search engine and compare policies from at least three providers.
You may also want to consider purchasing travel insurance, especially if you are in Australia for a short stay. Travel insurance may cover you for items that are not covered on visitors’ cover such as loss of travel goods and repatriation in a medical emergency. Travel insurance should be purchased in your country of origin, before you depart for overseas.
Medicare: Australia’s public health system
Unlike Australian citizens who can use the public health system Medicare to cover their medical and hospital expenses, overseas visitors who hold temporary visas are not generally eligible to use Medicare.
This means that if you need medical attention while you are visiting Australia you could find yourself substantially out of pocket. Even in a public hospital you could be charged more than $1,000 a day in hospital fees alone. Without health cover you can find yourself responsible for the full cost of treatment.
If you are unsure of your Medicare eligibility status, you should check with your local Medicare office or contact the Medicare (Services Australia).
If your visa status or Medicare eligibility changes at any time, inform your insurer as soon as possible to find out whether your level of cover is still suitable.
If you are an overseas visitors from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and New Zealand, you generally have access to Medicare under your country’s reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. This means you can receive emergency treatment in the public health system free of charge, which you would not otherwise be entitled to.
However, reciprocal Medicare benefits do not cover you for treatment as a private patient in hospital, and depending on your country, other limits may apply (for example, in some cases the benefits expire after you have been in Australia for a certain period of time). Check the conditions of your country’s reciprocal Medicare agreement to confirm what benefits and limits apply to you.
You should consider taking OVHC if you want to be covered for items that are not covered under the agreements.
How the Medicare Levy Surcharge might affect the type of health insurance you need
If you are:
- on a high income (over $90,000 as a single or $180,000 as a couple or family in the current financial year);
- considered resident in Australia for tax purposes; and
- have successfully enrolled in Medicare (for any level of benefits – reciprocal, interim, or full);
then you may be affected by the Medicare Levy Surcharge. For further information about the Surcharge and the type of health insurance policy that exempts you from the Surcharge, please refer to the Medicare Levy Surcharge.