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Australian Health Care System: An Overview

Living in Australia certainly has some advantages, and access to good quality health care is definitely one of them. Australians enjoy one of the best health care systems around the world, which translates to good overall health for a majority of the citizens, as well as long productive lives.

Australia has a highly developed health care system which covers all its citizens as well as other permanent residents. Their Medicare program is one of the best public health insurance plans in the world. They also have private insurers that help in subsidizing costs for medical care.

This article aims to provide you with an in-depth look at the health care system that Australians enjoy, as well as the mechanisms of the system which allow for better overall quality of health for its citizens.

Health in Australia

Australia has one of the highest life expectancies. In 2015, the average life span for Australians is 84.74 for males and 79.7 for females. Australia also has lower than average infant mortality rates at around 2 per 1000 live births.

A large majority of children have also been vaccinated due to the government providing government schedules for national immunization initiatives.

Some of the most common diseases that Australians die from are cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and mental disorders. These, however, are to be expected due to many people reaching old age, which increases the risk of acquiring these diseases.

However, there are challenges to the health care system as well. There is some inequality between health care being provided between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, however, and this results in a large health care gap between the two groups.

Medicare

Medicare is the backbone of the Australian health care system. It was launched in 1984, and its main purpose is to cover costs for medication, treatment, and other medical services. Those who are eligible for Medicare include:

  • Australian citizens
  • New Zealand citizens
  • Permanent Residents in Australia
  • Citizens from countries with reciprocal health care agreements i.e. Belgium, Norway, UK, Ireland, etc.

Medicare is funded through taxes paid, which are automatically deducted from income. In order to encourage their citizens to get private insurance to further lower health-related costs, a Medical Levy Surcharge must also be paid for those that earn more but do not acquire acceptable health insurance.

Medicare is operated by Services Australia but is being implemented across all levels of government. Aside from health insurance, Medicare is also in charge of care for the aged, funding for medical research, immunization, regulation of medicines and equipment, monitoring the distribution of doctors across the country, and many more.

Around 10% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product is spent to fund health initiatives and programs.

Programs

Listed below are some of the programs being run by the Australian government to ensure good health for its citizens.

Medical Benefits Schedule

The Medical Benefits Schedule, or MBS, is a list of all health services that Medicare covers, whether partially or in full. The MBS provides an easy to understand guide for those who would like to make claims. Any costs above the recommended fee included in the MBS may be considered as out of pocket expenses.

In order to lessen the financial burden for those that require consistent treatments within a short amount of time, there is a Medicare Safety Net where patients spend less once a certain amount of out of pocket expenses have been reached.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

PBS is a program that actually predates the establishment of Medicare. Under this program, those eligible can have access to medications at a lower cost. However, pharmacists and the drugs being sold themselves must be approved before they are to be included in the program.

In order to lower costs, PBS also encourages buyers to purchase generic brands. To control this, patients may be required to pay the difference between the price of branded and generic medicines as out of pocket expenses unless certain requirements are met. Like MBS, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme also has safety nets to avoid excessive spending.

National Immunization Program Schedule

The National Immunization Program Schedule aims to prevent the spread of disease through vaccinations. The program started in 1997 and resulted in over 90% coverage for children aged 1 to 5.

Vaccinations included in the program include but are not limited to:

  • Hepatitis
  • Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Diphtheria
  • Human Papillomavirus
  • Pneumococcal

These immunizations start from birth until the person reaches 79 years of age.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

The AIHW is responsible for collecting and providing data and statistics relating to the health and wellness of Australians. These data are available to the public but are also usually used by universities, government departments, and research centres for research and other purposes.

Medical Research

The Australian government also funds several private and public research studies to help eradicate disease and improve the wellness and health of Australians. Organizations such as NHMRC and the Department of Health’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) have invested billions for this cause.

Private Insurance

For Australians who want more coverage as well as for those who want to choose their own doctors, private insurance is also available. Private insurance also helps them avoid the long lines which typically awaits those who would like to avail of health services through Medicare.

As a general rule, private health insurance covers more types of treatments, although this may depend on what you are actually buying. Different packages are available, and the coverages offered will depend on how much you are willing to spend and how many extras you would like to be included.

Conclusion

Due to initiatives by the government, a robust public health care system, and private insurances that are willing to shoulder the rest if not all of the cost, Australians have one of the best statuses of health and well-being around.

Of course, there are some challenges and barriers such as an ageing population and an overburdened medical workforce, especially during this pandemic.

Still, the Australian government is doing all that it can to ensure good health of its citizens, which is why being able to avail of health care in Australia is one of the best things for its citizens and residents.

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