Like many countries, Australia does have a universal health system. The health system is overseen by the Department of Health and Aging and is overseen by the Ministry for Health and Aging. This group oversees national health policy, whereas state and territory government takes over certain elements of the health care system (hospitals, primary care offices, etc).
The national public health care system in Australia was established in 1984. Known as Medicare, it is funded by an overall 1.5% income tax which is earmarked for Medicare (with an extra 1% tax added to high-income earners who do not purchase their own private insurance). It is also funded by some of the general revenue from the government’s operating budget. This helps cover the costs of the Medicare system for everyone residing in the country without making them pay many out of pocket expenses.
The universal health system is very simple. The government pays for most of your services, unless the patient has other health insurance (where, in that case, the private insurance would pay for it with the government paying the rest) or if you’ve accumulated health care costs past the yearly maximum. Dentistry, optometry, and ambulance transport are not covered by the public health care system, and must be paid for out of pocket or through a private plan that you purchase and pay for annually. As a student, you are required to obtain a health care plan called an OSHC (which we cover in our health insurance section) and get the benefits that you need to fill in the gap. It is fairly inexpensive (you pay by the year) and will help fill the gap for any of the health bills that you may accumulate while studying in Australia.
There is also a national program of the Australian government known as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which helps with paying for medications that you may need for medical treatment. This pharmaceutical program also helps to provide medications to those who are in need of them for a lower cost than you would have to pay out of pocket. If you hold a current Medicare card, then you are eligible for the PBS and can obtain most of your necessary prescription medications for little to no cost. There are also forms of the PBS available for overseas students and those on working visas, and there is also a program available for veterans.
The quality of health care in Australia is actually quite high. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care is there to ensure that all doctors and other medical professions are following the proper codes and procedures in order to keep Australian citizens and visitors safe when they are coming into the country and need health care. They also print annual studies and statistics to show how the country is doing with health care overall.
In general, the health care system in Australia is very reliable and very easy to navigate, even if you are an international student. The university that you are attending can help you navigate the system. They can also help you to determine what you need to obtain in order to be covered in terms of health care during your time in Australia.