All permanent residents of Australia are entitled to join Medicare and can do so simply by visiting a Medicare Centre seven to ten days after their arrival in Oz and bringing with them their passport, travel documents and permanent visas. It will then take between three weeks to a month for applicants to receive their Medicare Card. Temporary residents of Australia will need to take out private health insurance unless they come from a country which has a reciprocal health agreement with Australia – both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland does. Residents from such countries are entitled to access to Medicare whether permanent resident or not.
All permanent residents who hold a Medicare card will receive heavily subsidised treatments from medical practitioners who have been issued a Medicare provider number, and free treatment in all hospitals (providing they have admitted themselves). In theory, Medicare will cover all of the Medicare Schedule Fee when visiting a general practitioner for a consultation. However, as most GP’s charge a higher amount then the schedule fee you may still have to pay a ‘gap fee’. For most other GP services, such as minor procedures like removing skin lesions or injecting joints, the rebate you will receive is typically around 85 per cent of the Schedule fee.
Medicare is largely paid for through an income tax charge of 1.5 per cent for most taxpayers who are members of the system. Low income earners are exempt from this charge, while the highest earners will pay an extra Medicare Levy Surcharge of between 1 and 1.5 per cent.
It is important to note however, that not all healthcare is subsidised by Medicare. For example, the system does not cover dental care, most optical care or ambulance/emergency services (or hospital stays which result from this). For this very reason, over half of all Australians also take out some form of private health insurance in addition to joining Medicare. Australians are widely encouraged by the government to take out at least some form of basic private health insurance with the offer of a Federal Government rebate one of the key methods used for attracting people to do so. There are a large number of different private health insurers in Australia, the largest of which is the government-owned Medibank Private.
It’s also worth noting that people who have some form of private healthcare will have more options regarding where they can receive treatment (it won’t have to be conducted by a doctor or surgery/hospital with a Medicare Provider number) and may help you to avoid often lengthy waiting lists for treatment or a consultation.