Access to adequate healthcare and medical treatment is a necessity for a good quality of life, which explains why Australia continuously ranks among the most livable countries in the world.
With a universal healthcare system, Australian citizens have access to a wide range of healthcare services for free or at a low cost. But how does the healthcare system in this country work for international students?
This article will cover everything you need to know, from the way the Australian healthcare system works to how international students can access it.
The Australian Healthcare System
Citizens, permanent residents, and some overseas visitors of Australia have access to free or subsidised healthcare services through the universal health insurance scheme called Medicare.
Established in 1984, this public healthcare system is funded through the Medicare levy, which is 2% of residents’ taxable income. All levels of Australian governments – federal, state and territory, and local – jointly share responsibility for the funding, operation, management, and regulation of the healthcare system.
The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) covers the full costs of visits to the General Practitioner (GP) and hospitals and 85% of the fee for a visit to a specialist. This scheme fully or partially covers costs for a variety of services delivered in public and private hospitals, medical services, as well as tests, imaging, and scans.
Costs for pharmaceuticals in Australia are also kept relatively low through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), which subsidises costs for more than 5,200 types of medication and products.
Since Medicare does not cover the costs of ambulance services, private health system services, glasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, physiotherapy, and most dental services, many Australian citizens and residents also opt for private health insurance in addition to Medicare. Some also choose to pay out of pocket for these services.
Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) Explained
When it comes to international students who are pursuing formal education in Australia, a special health insurance package called the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) must be obtained in order to cover medical expenses in the country.
Below, we will cover some frequently asked questions regarding the OSHC and healthcare services for overseas students in Australia.
Why Do I Need OSHC?
In order to study in Australia as an international student, you will have to apply for a visa. Apart from other requirements for the Subclass 500 Student visa, the Department of Home Affairs requires you to have adequate health insurance, that is the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC), throughout the entire duration of your visa.
The OSHC ensures that international students have financial support for medical and hospital care while studying in Australia.
International students from countries that have specific agreements with Australia that address the insurance requirements are exempt from the OSCH purchase requirement.
These exemptions apply to residents from Norway, residents from Sweden with insurance from the Kammarkollegiet (the Swedish Legal, Financial and Administration Agency), and residents from Belgium.
Do International Students in Australia Have Access to Medicare?
Most international students are not eligible for Medicare coverage; however, the Overseas Students Health Cover ensures that students have access to quality and affordable healthcare services throughout their stay in Australia.
Australia has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with some countries, which allow visitors to have access to publicly funded medical treatment and care.
Australian student visa holders from Belgium, Italy, New Zealand, Slovenia, Sweden, the Netherlands, or the United Kingdom can apply for Medicare in Australia under their country’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreements.
When Should I Apply for OSHC?
Since the Overseas Student Health Cover is a condition for the Australian Student visa, the Department of Home Affairs requires you to have activated your OSHC policy starting from your arrival date in Australia and prior to having been granted the visa.
This means that you will have to pay for the OSHC before arriving in Australia, ideally when you receive your confirmation of enrolment (COE) from the institution where you want to study.
If you plan to bring accompanying dependents with you in Australia, that is, immediate family members such as your spouse or children, you will have to provide proof of coverage with OSHC for the entire stay for them as well.
How Can I Purchase OSHC?
OSCH can be purchased either online on the provider’s website, through a migration agent, or by having the educational institution you’ll be attending arrange it for you. Universities and other educational institutions will typically have an OSCH provider that they recommend; however, you can also choose another provider.
As for OSHC providers you can choose from, there are six providers approved by the Australian government:
- Allianz Global Assistance
- CBHS International Health
What Medical Services Does the OSHC Cover?
OSHC providers usually offer an essential OSHC package and a more comprehensive or premium OSHC package at a higher cost. The essentials package is mandated by the Australian government according to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and includes a minimum level of benefits payable.
This package should include coverage for 100% of the MBS Schedule fee for professional services and other benefits that typically cover full fees of services provided by a general practitioner and around 85% of fees for specialist consultations, pathology services, diagnostic imaging services, and other related services.
All providers are obliged to list services offered through OSHC policies, therefore, check their website or pamphlets for more information.
How Much Does OSHC Cost?
The pricing of the Overseas Student Health Cover can vary depending on the provider and the type of package you choose. Some educational institutions also have partnerships with OSHC providers and can offer a discounted rate on coverage. The price also depends on whether you need a single, dual-family (couples), or multi-family package.
In general, basic packages can range from AUD 545 to AUD 654 per year for an adult, AUD 4,363 to AUD 3,796 for a couple, and around AUD 5,000 to AUD 7,500 for family packages. Fees are prone to change depending on the year you get insurance, the type of package you buy, and the provider.
For more information on pricing and OSHC policy, we suggest contacting a representative from the university you will be attending or enquiring directly from OSHC providers.
Can I Change My OSHC Provider?
You are allowed to change your OSHC provider at any time, however, if you change them while you are still covered through an existing policy, you may be charged a ‘refund processing fee’.
Some providers may refund you if you have paid the entire policy fee in advance. You should also ensure to be insured throughout the entire time when you are in between providers since you are required to have an OSHC policy throughout the entire duration of your stay in Australia while on a Student visa.
Can I Cancel My OSHC?
The OSHC policy can only be cancelled if you leave Australia permanently or change your OSHC provider and start a new policy. You can also cancel your OSHC if you intend to stay in Australia with another visa.
Once you are granted the new visa, you can proceed to cancel your OSHC. You will, however, have to adhere to the health cover condition depending on the type of visa you are applying for.
Private Health Insurance in Australia
If you are studying in Australia on a non-student visa or want to have coverage for other services that the OSHC does not cover, you may want to consider purchasing private health insurance before coming to Australia.
Your educational institution of choice can provide guidance on preferred providers who offer health coverage for students who are not eligible for OSHC policy. Pricing and benefits of private health insurance can vary depending on the type of policy and provider you choose, therefore we encourage you to shop around before deciding on a policy.
All in all, the healthcare system in Australia is very comprehensive and affordable for residents and visitors alike. You will have access to a wide range of medical services and pharmaceuticals at no cost or a low fee once you are insured, therefore, make sure to choose a convenient policy before coming to Australia.
For more information on the Overseas Student Health Cover and healthcare in Australia, please check the following resources: