What you need to know about the Australian healthcare system

Help navigating the Australian healthcare system.

Getting sick or injured in a new country can be confusing and scary, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to go or what to do. We’ve put together a guide to the Australian healthcare system, so you’ll know how to get help should you or your family need it while you’re here. 

What kind of healthcare is available in Australia? 

The Australian healthcare system is divided into two sectors: public and private. To access the public health service people must be eligible to receive Medicare, which provides financial assistance to Australian residents and some visitors to help pay for some treatments. Patients may decide to use the private health service, instead of using the public health service. In those cases private health insurance will generally pay the portion that Medicare will have paid in the public health service. 

Can I use Medicare? 

Permanent residents of Australia qualify for Medicare. 

If you are here on a student, visitor or working visa, you may not qualify for Medicare. If this is the case, private health insurance can help meet the costs of medical and hospital treatment in Australia. 

It’s worth noting that some visitors from certain countries are covered by Medicare for some health services under Reciprocal Health Care Agreements*. 

How does private health insurance work? 

Private health insurance helps with the costs of services provided in the healthcare system while you are in Australia, including emergency ambulance trips and a range of treatments in hospital. 

It is a requirement of most work and student visas that you purchase private health insurance for your time in Australia, with a minimum requirement that you obtain ‘hospital cover’. You can then add different types of extras cover (also called ‘ancillary’ cover) which helps with the cost of things like physiotherapy and some dental services. 

How can a general practitioner doctor (GP) help? 

A GP can help you by diagnosing and treating pain, diseases and other health issues. They can also help with mental health support, vaccines, referrals for tests or scans, managing and treating wounds, prescribe medication if required, as well as referring you to specialist doctors. Some GPs also specialise in women’s health. 

If you need to see a doctor, your first step is to find a general practitioner (GP) near where you live, work or study. GPs can work in private practices, public clinics and medical clinics and the fee for service can vary. 

If you need emergency medical help, call 000. This will connect you immediately to the national ambulance, police, and fire services. Click here for more important Australian phone numbers and websites.

Do I have to pay to see a general practitioner doctor? 

If you don’t have private health insurance, and you’re not covered by Medicare you will have to pay. 

If you do have private health insurance, most Medibank Overseas Health Covers for visitors will pay a benefit towards the costs of seeing a GP. When a GP charges more than the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee (the set government fee), you will be left with an out-of-pocket expense. To minimise any out-of-pocket expense, attend a bulk billing clinic (which is a clinic where the GPs charge the MBS fee) and always ask about any potential “out-of-pocket expenses” before your appointment. Out-of-pocket expenses are the difference between what you pay, and what your insurance will pay for. 

If you hold Medibank’s OSHC (Overseas Student Health Cover), you can visit one of our Direct Billing Clinics or have one of our out of hours partners visit your home. These clinics have an agreement with Medibank to send the bill directly to us. This is to help reduce or eliminate the upfront payment you would normally be required to make at the time of your appointment. Depending on the Doctor you see, you may on occasion experience an 'out-of-pocket' expense which is not covered by Medibank. Please ensure you confirm any 'out-of-pocket' expenses you may have to pay prior to your consultation by contacting the direct billing clinic. Remember to take your Medibank OSHC membership card - or digital card available in the Medibank OSHC App - and photo identification, such as your student ID card with you to your next appointment. 

For Medibank OSHC you can find an OSHC Direct Billing clinic here

For ahm OSHC you can find an OSHC Direct Billing clinic here

Hospital visits 

When you’re treated in hospital by a doctor, surgeon or anaesthetist (specialist), the set fee is called the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee. Some Medibank covers pay more than the MBS fee. But if the specialist chooses to charge above the amount we pay then you will have to pay the difference, an out-of-pocket expense. 

And it’s worth knowing that if you visit a Members’ Choice hospital you will generally get better value for money compared to a non-Members’ Choice private hospital (as long as the service you receive is covered by our agreement with the hospital and is included in your cover). 

Click here to find out when you may need to visit a hospital in Australia. 

How do I get prescription medication? 

If you need prescription medication, your GP or Specialist will give you a script and you can take it to a pharmacy and get what you need. Pharmacists can provide advice on how to take medications safely, dosages of medications and can help treat common health issues. 

If you are already taking prescription medicines before you come here, you may want to bring enough with you for your time in Australia. Just make sure it is legal to do so, as there are restrictions on bringing medicines here. Find out about bringing medicines into Australia here


The benefits we pay towards medication provided as part of your hospital treatment depends on your cover and the hospital you visit, so it’s a good idea to call us before your treatment to understand the benefits you should receive. 


Our Overseas Student Health Covers and Overseas Workers Premium Hospital, Medical and Extras include benefits for pharmaceuticals. This means they can also help with the cost of prescription-only medication prescribed by a doctor (GP and specialist) outside of hospital. Benefits will only be paid after a co-payment has been paid by the patient and we don’t pay benefits towards most oral contraceptives and all medicines prescribed for cosmetic purposes. 

Looking for something else?

Visit our Overseas Health Cover Guides homepage to find more information and advice.

Your guide to navigating Australian healthcare

Most visitors to Australia have no access to Medicare. Like most countries in the world, health care costs in Australia can be expensive.

Need some help?

We’re here to help you choose the health cover that matches your needs while you’re in Australia. Contact Medibank how it suits you; online 24/7, WeChat, in-store or by phone.

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Things you should know

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).

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