Health and Wellbeing
Also see Beginning a Life in Australia (Chapter 9 – Health and Wellbeing)
Australians enjoy a high level of good health. Australia has quality housing, water and sanitation, and an adequate supply of food and medicines. Health care in Australia follows modern practice with technical and scientific skills used to prevent, examine and treat illness. People coming to Australia have health checks before entering the country as another way to prevent further infectious diseases.
The Department of Health has a diverse set of responsibilities related to promoting better health and active ageing for all Australians. Its focus is on a federal level with states and territories individually operating their own health systems.
All serious medical emergencies should be dealt with by ringing 000. Triple zero is the emergency number for Australia and can be used to call ambulance, police and fire brigade services. More information is available on the Emergency Services page.
Medicare is a federal government service that provides payment and services for health care and medicine. You may be eligible to join Medicare and gain immediate access to health care services and programs. These include free public hospital care, help with the cost of out-of-hospital care, and subsidised medicines.
In most cases, you will pay for medical care then receive a refund for some of the payment. Medicare also helps with the cost of seeing a local doctor or specialist and with paying for medicine and other treatment. It also delivers free public hospital care. You can purchase health insurance to cover costs not refunded by Medicare or cover the costs of private hospitalisation. Medicare does not cover dental care, optical care or ambulance transport which can be paid for out of pocket or through private health insurance.
Doctors, both general practitioners (GPs) and specialists, charge a fee for their service. The government returns most of the fee after you submit a claim through Medicare. Some health insurance policies assist with the gap between the doctor's fee and the Medicare refund. Some GPs will offer bulk billing which means they do not charge patients a fee. Instead, Medicare direct pays them a fixed fee per service. You can ask your health care provider if they bulk bill at the time of appointment.
How to enrol
Migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants generally have immediate access to health care under Medicare, depending on their visa. Other temporary migrants may have to hold private health insurance.
To enrol in Medicare, you should go into a Medicare office seven to 10 days after your arrival in Australia and bring your passport or travel documents.
The table below provides contact details for Medicare Australia:
Medicare Australia contact details
The Department and Services Australia share client information electronically to facilitate the Medicare enrolment process.
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
The government also subsidises the cost of most medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The PBS is administered by the Services Australia.
Hospitals and Doctors
Everyone is able to access medical care in Australia. Below are the different locations where you can directly access care. Depending on your location, many areas have multiple hospitals and doctor's practices. The National Health Services Directorycan be used to search for services close to you.
Public hospitals are open to people sent there by a doctor, those with a grievous injury or those taken there by ambulance. Your family doctor, a specialist doctor or a doctor in a hospital's emergency section can arrange for a person to go to hospital.
There may be a waiting time before you can access services in a public hospital as the seriousness of injury decides how quickly you see a doctor. The hospital chooses the doctor who treats you in the hospital. A public hospital also serves the community through an outpatient service. This is where you can see a doctor at any time. You may have to wait a long time if your case is not an emergency.
Large hospitals are located in all state capital cities. They employ doctors to treat major illness and perform major surgery. Smaller hospitals are located in regional and rural parts of Australia. They have fewer facilities and do not treat all illness or cater for all types of surgery. Some hospitals will specialise in an area of medicine and develop expertise and equipment for that area.
Private hospitals exist to offer people a choice of doctor and the time that a patient can access medical services. The government regulates and licences private hospitals but they are run by a private company or religious organisation. Your doctor will advise you about private hospitals if you need to go to a hospital.
Patients pay for private hospital care. You must pay the fees for the doctor and for your stay at a private hospital. Medicare will cover some of the doctor's fee but it does not cover the hospital fees. Private hospital care can be very expensive depending on your length of stay and the services provided. Private health insurance (explained below) can often cover much of the cost of private hospital care.
General practitioners (GPs)
General practitioners (GPs) or 'family doctors' are doctors that see patients in the community. They diagnose and treat illness or refer a patient to a specialist. A GP has some knowledge and skill in all aspects of medicine and will often join with other GPs to provide a 24-hour service.
Choosing a doctor can be important to accessing health services. You should take into account location, cost, how well you get along with them and how busy the practice gets.
Community health centres
Local government funds community health centres. The funding includes the cost of vaccination for children and most women's health programs. The centres will have a variety of different services available including health checks for babies and children, vaccination, health education and counselling. They are targeted at providing care to the most vulnerable members of the community. They focus on health promotion, and disease prevention and management to help people live healthier lives.
Private Health Insurance
Australia's public health system Medicare covers Australians for medical care and emergency treatment. Not all services are provided through Medicare though, and private health insurance can be purchased by citizens and non-citizens to insure you against injury and disease. There are many companies that offer health insurance and packages range from very small and specific to comprehensive health cover.
Private health insurance funds may cover costs for your treatment as a private patient in private or public hospitals and can include some services that Medicare does not cover, such as dental care, most optical care and ambulance transport. If you wish to purchase private health insurance, it is important to compare different funds. The cost and type of cover can vary widely.
The federal government operates the privatehealth.gov.au website which provides detailed information about private health insurance funds, and how the private health system works. The site also links to the majority of health providers in Australia to provide a fair comparison of their services.
The Australian Taxation Office provides rebates for the purchase of private health insurance depending on your level of income. There is also a surcharge for not having the insurance if you are aged 31 years or older. For more information on the Medicare Levy Surcharge and private health insurance rebates, please visit the ATO website.
Other Medical care
Dentists look after your teeth and oral health. Dental care in Australia can be very expensive and is not covered by Medicare. Health insurance extras packages will often include dental cover to offset check-ups and major work.
Ambulances are large vehicles operated by paramedics that provide urgent medical attention and transport to a hospital in an emergency. If you need urgent medical assistance and/or transport to a hospital, please call 000 as instructed on the Emergency Services page. You must pay a fee when you are transported to a hospital in an ambulance. Most private health insurance schemes provide ambulance cover or the cover can be purchased separately at a much lower price.
A specialist is a doctor that provides services in a specific area of medicine such as podiatry for feet or paediatrics for children. They have more knowledge and skill in their field than a GP and can provide treatment specific to their field. You must be referred to a specialist by your GP instead of just ringing to book an appointment.
Your doctor prescribes medication to prevent or treat illness, and the local chemist sells it to you. You will find chemists in most shopping centres. You can also purchase basic medications that do not require prescriptions like paracetamol or antacids from supermarkets.
Note: It is important to read labels and instructions on medicines carefully and ask questions if unclear. For help or information about medicines, speak to a pharmacist, or contact the Medicines Line.
Telephone: 1300 633 424 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm EST, excluding public holidays)
Women's health programs are set up to improve the quality of women's health. The programs include health services related to childbirth. Australia has a National Women's Health policy that demonstrates the government's commitment to improving women's health and health care. You can find out more about local programs at community health centres.
Female genital mutilation or cutting
The practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is illegal in Australia.
FGM/C includes any procedure that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, that is performed for non-medical reasons.
It is also illegal to take or send a person to another country to have FGM/C performed on that person, or to have someone else organise this.
FGM/C can have serious and long-lasting consequences. Women and girls arriving in Australia may have health problems due to the practice.
Further information can be found on the National Education Toolkit for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Awareness website. Specialist female reproductive rights services are available in all states and territories. Please refer to the "Female reproductive health and rights" section of Chapter 6 – Australian law, in the Beginning a Life in Australia booklet for contact details.
Vaccination / Immunisation
Free-of-charge vaccination programs are available for children and aged people in the Australian community. Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way to protect against harmful disease. Commonly, Australian children are immunised against rubella, measles, mumps and polio. You can find out more about accessing these programs at the Immunise Australia website or your local community health centre.
Aged care allows older people to live a dignified life in safety. The care and support helps older people to stay in their homes and to remain independent for longer. Residential care provides care for those unable to continue to care for themselves.
Australians pay for aged care on an ability-to-pay basis with help from the government. Myagedcare can provide useful information on aged care homes, services and health. They also operate an information line. Call: 1800 200 422.
Many Australian people use complementary therapies as part of the overall health care offering. Health regulators accept many forms of complementary therapies including acupuncture, aromatherapy and naturopathy. Complementary therapies are more readily available in metropolitan Australian cities. Find out more at the healthdirect Australia website
The Australian people expect very high levels of and standards for health care. Government regulation sets and controls the standard for health care in Australia. Professional groups advise the government on health matters. Each state and territory also has an independent ombudsman who can cater to serious complaints about services. For contact details regarding health care complaints, please refer to Chapter 9 – Health and Wellbeing of the Beginning a Life in Australia booklet.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides individualised support for eligible people with a permanent and significant disability, their families and carers. NDIS assistance is not means-tested and does not impact on income support such as the disability support pension or carer payments.
At this time, you must meet age and location requirements in order to access the NDIS. Information about eligibility is at NDIS website.
If you are not in an NDIS location, you may be able to access existing disability services. For information about these services, go to NDIS website.
State and territory health services provide a variety of support and services available for people with disability, their families and carers.
Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres provide free and confidential information on local carer support, disability and community services. Centres are located throughout Australia and you can contact your nearest Centre by phoning 1800 052 222 (Freecall except from mobile phones).
Who can I contact to find out more about health care?
The table below lists links that provide further information on state and territory health information.