Do you have reciprocal health care rights in Australia?

22 Jan


One of our client’s daughters was horse jumping in the New South Wales countryside. She fell off the horse and suffered a serious fracture to her leg. She was rushed to the hospital and suffered some pretty serious complications. She was an Irish citizen, but her passport had expired. Was she covered by Australia’s reciprocal health care agreements? Continue reading the article to find out.

What is a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA)?

A Reciprocal Health Care Agreement is an agreement held with certain countries that visitors can get publicly funded for necessary medical care. There are currently 11 countries who have a RHCA with Australia. These countries include:

  • United Kingdom
  • Sweden
  • Netherlands
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Malta
  • Italy
  • Belgium
  • Republic of Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Slovenia

New countries may enter into a RHCA at any time.

How long will you be covered for?

The length of the health care cover is dependant on the country that you are from.

  • New Zealand and Ireland citizens will be covered for the entire length of their stay
  • UK, Belgium, Slovenia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands citizens will remain covered until their current Health Insurance Card has expired
  • Malta and Italy citizens will remain covered for a period of 6 months starting from the date of their arrival to Australia, or sooner if their current health insurance expires

What type of health care is covered?

The agreements cover any medically necessary treatments for ill health to injury while visiting Australia temporarily. The entitlements covered will be dependant upon the country of origin.

United Kingdom, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway Slovenia, Malta and Italy

A citizen from any of the above countries will be entitled to:

  • Any essential medical care outside of hospital
  • Any essential medical care in a public hospital as a public patient
  • Certain covered PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) prescriptions medications at the general rate, rather than private

Ireland or New Zealand

  • Any essential medical care in a public hospital as a public patient
  • Certain covered PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) prescriptions medications at the general rate, rather than private

What type of health care is not covered?

  • Medicine that is not subsidised under the PBS
  • Private medical care
  • Ambulance services
  • Most dental care
  • Physiotherapy, acupuncture and podiatry
  • Glasses and contact lenses
  • Hearing aids
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Home Nursing

… and a few other things which are more obvious, such as treatment for which a third party (such as a work cover insurer) is liable.

What if you are a student on a student visa?

Even though those who wish to obtain a student visa may be a citizen of a RHCA country, they must still obtain Overseas Student Healthcare Cover (OSHC) and maintain this cover for the duration of their visa. The only exceptions are for those who are a citizen of Belgium or covered under either the National Board of Student Air or by Kammarkollegiet.

What ended up happening to our injured Irish Horse Jumper?

She ended up in a hospital and was refused free treatment because her passport had expired, and she was unable to prove she was an Irish citizen. She was told treatment as an inpatient would cost $1500.00 a day in a public hospital. After several frantic calls to the Irish embassy in Canberra, the Irish Ambassador intervened and produced evidence that she was entitled to care as an Irish citizen. All is now well as she is recovering.

However, there is another lesson there as well – do not let your passport expire if you are entitled to reciprocal health care because if you do need emergency care, it’ll prove to be very expensive if you can’t get your hands on a compassionate ambassador!

We strongly recommend you take out private health insurance while you visit Australia – or comprehensive travel insurance for the length of you travels. It just doesn’t make sense not to.

Need help? Book a consultation with one of our migration agents to check your  reciprocal healthcare rights!

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