The health system: public versus private

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Have you ever wondered what happens when you get sick or need medical treatment? In Australia, we have a health system that has two parts; the public side run by the government through Medicare, and the private health sector.

Public health

If you become sick and need medical attention from a GP or specialist, need medical tests such as blood tests or an X-ray, take medication or you need to visit a public hospital, our tax money helps to cover the cost.

As a public patient, you won’t pay anything to go to a public hospital but you won’t get to choose which hospital or which doctors treat you. You may also have to go on the public hospital wait list for your treatment, unless it’s an emergency in which case you’ll be treated immediately. Medicare usually doesn’t cover the full cost of doctor’s visits, tests and prescription medicines, so it’s likely you will have to pay some money towards these services.

Private health

The private or non-government part of the health system is made up of private hospitals, health insurance companies and other health providers, such as dentists.

If you need treatment in a private hospital, need a ride in an ambulance or need to see a specialist such as an optometrist, physiotherapist or acupuncturist for instance, you can do so through the private system.

As a private patient, you can pay for these services yourself or get private health insurance to help cover the costs. There are a number of benefits to choosing private health care including a greater choice of hospital and the doctor that treats you. You’ll also avoid waiting extended periods for treatment on public wait lists and you may get your own room. Medicare will only pay part of your private health bills and any gaps need to be paid for by you.    

Joining a health insurance fund will help pay for your private treatment, however be aware that when you join up with a policy it’s likely you will not be covered immediately – this is known as a waiting period.

Aside from the obvious benefits associated with private treatment, there are a number of financial reasons to join a health fund. With private cover you’ll be able to avoid the Medicare Levy Surcharge and therefore pay less tax, claim the Federal Government Rebate and avoid the Lifetime Health Cover Loading – all good reasons to join. You can search and compare multiple health insurance policies on comparison websites such as RateCity.  

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