People are buying private health cover to fill in the gaps of the Medicare system. But can you still use Medicare if you have private health coverage?

And when do people end up using private health insurance in addition to Medicare?

When the Health Coverage Is Only for Extras

If your health insurance only covers extras like glasses, hearing aids and travel medicine, then there’s no issue with using Medicare on top of this. However, the Australian government’s intention is to get people to buy health coverage to reduce demand on the overloaded public hospitals.

Health coverage that covers services like dental work and physical therapy, won’t necessarily cover hospital care, which will mean you have to rely on Medicare.

This type of coverage doesn’t get you tax benefits, but it’s a common way for people to fill in the gaps in Medicare. It reduces the cost of medical expenses the socialised healthcare system doesn’t pay for, and it can give you access to services and health management programs you otherwise couldn’t use.

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When You’re a Visitor to Australia

Foreigners in the country have to have private health insurance coverage to pay for their medical bills, because they aren’t allowed to use Medicare. The socialised healthcare system is paid for by Australian taxpayers, and it isn’t intended for those who haven’t paid into it. However, permanent residents have Medicare.

If you’re coming to Australia as a tourist, and international student or on a short-term work visa, arrange your own private health coverage in case of an emergency.

When You Have Good Health Coverage

Hospital cover gives you significant freedom. You can choose treatment in a private hospital or you can also visit a public hospital as a private patient. But this may increase the cost of your healthcare. For example, the average cost for a doctor’s visit or Emergency Room visit through Medicare is free. However, if you want to have a private room after having a baby at a public hospital, you’d have to pay for that privilege.

Furthermore, those who use private health coverage to pay for planned procedures at private hospitals, may still end up in a public hospital due to an accident. You’ll still be covered by Medicare in these cases. After all, you don’t have time to shop around for healthcare after a car accident.

You may have to go through a billing process to sort things out between Medicare and the private insurer, but that’s often handled behind the scenes until you receive the bill. Or you may need to pay for some of the services and then file a claim with the insurer. This is common, since half of the population is covered by private insurance. Just check with the insurance policy about what’s covered and what isn’t.

If you’re concerned about your coverage level, shop for a better one on iSelect. And check out what each policy offers in terms of its services. For example, emergency vehicles aren’t covered by Medicare, and the cost of that ambulance ride may not be subsidised by the state. In fact, there are individuals who take out private health coverage specifically to cover ambulance rides if the need arises.

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