Medicare is your safety net for GP visits and hospital admissions within Australia, but as international travel resumes, it’s useful to know those benefits also extend to Aussies visiting 11 selected countries overseas.
That roster includes New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and others, with which Australia maintains reciprocal health care agreements covering both emergency care, and “care for an illness or injury that can’t wait until you get home.”
Depending on your circumstances, this may include treatments relating to Covid-19.
What cover does Medicare provide overseas?
Medicare’s overseas healthcare agreements assist with essential healthcare costs in Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Exactly what’s covered varies between countries.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, Medicare assists with “medically necessary care that can’t wait until you get home in the National Health Service (NHS) system,” provided you have not been in the UK for more than six months.
This includes care from an NHS doctor or nurse at a GP – provided they accept NHS patients and you ask to be registered as one under the UK/Australia Reciprocal Health Care Agreement – as well as care in a public ward or as an out-patient at an NHS hospital, and necessary ambulance transport to NHS hospitals or facilities.
Prescription medicines are also covered if you’re treated as an NHS patient, although a small out-of-pocket fee may apply.
Coverage in the UK doesn’t extend to non-subsidised medicine from pharmacies, any prescription medicines if you’re not being treated as an NHS patient, or dental services of any kind.
To see exactly what’s covered in each country under Medicare’s reciprocal healthcare agreements, visit the Australian Government’s website.
Proving you’re eligible for Medicare benefits overseas
You’ll need more than an Australian passport to confirm your eligibility for discounted or fee-free healthcare abroad – you’ll also need to present your Australian Medicare card, which is why you should always bring it with you when traveling abroad.
Australian permanent residents can show a different valid passport which carries proof of their Australian permanent residency, but must still present their Medicare card.
Both the passport and the Medicare card must be in-date, so if your Medicare card has already expired – or will expire while you’re away from home – request a new one from the Australian Government before your trip in ample time for it to arrive.
You can also save a digital version of your Medicare card to your smartphone.
Some countries have additional requirements for visitors seeking Medicare benefits, such as the Netherlands, for which you’ll also need to complete and submit an eligibility form, along with a copy of your passport and Medicare card, before benefits will be paid.
You can do this either before your trip or after you arrive in the Netherlands, which gets you an “A111 certificate” as needs to be presented when accessing healthcare under these arrangements.
If you’ve not taken those steps and incur out-of-pocket medical costs during your visit, you can request a retroactive refund of those payments, but this requires additional paperwork.
It’s much easier to obtain that certificate first as a just-in-case, rather than later when you’re out of pocket.
No, Medicare doesn't replace travel insurance
Before seeking any medical treatments overseas, it's also best to speak with your travel insurer.
This remains true whether or not reciprocal Medicare benefits are available, and may be a requirement of some policies in order to submit a claim.
Every insurer is different, so refer to your own policy for further information, and contact your insurer if in doubt.
Given that some insurers have limited coverage (or even none) when it comes to Covid-19, your Australian Medicare card is truly one you can't travel without.
For full details of Medicare's reciprocal healthcare agreements overseas, head to the Australian Government website.