Private and Public Health Care

What's the difference?

When you become sick in Australia, there are two health care systems you can rely on for treatment: public health care (Medicare) and private health care.

The Medicare public health system:

  • The public health system in Australia offers access to basic care including:
  • free treatment as a public patient in a public hospital
  • free or subsidised treatment by some practitioners (including some specific services by participating optometrists and dentists)
  • free eye tests by optometrists
  • tests and examinations including X-rays and pathology tests

Whilst Medicare offers a good service to patients, in the public health system, you may be subject to waiting for an available bed, waiting for elective surgery, and treatment by whichever doctor is available at the time of your admittance.

The Medicare system is under increasing strain with more patients being admitted to hospital and increasing the waiting times for elective surgery. In 2010-11, 50% of patients waited up to 36 days for public elective surgery, increasing from 32 days in 2006-07 and 35 days in 2009-10. The median waiting time ranged from 29 days in Queensland and Western Australia to 76 days in the Australian Capital Territory. Between 2006-07 and 2010-11, the proportion of patients who waited more than a year to be admitted for their surgery decreased from 3.1% to 2.9%.

Ref: AIHW 2011. Australian hospital statistics 2010-2011: emergency department care and elective surgery waiting times. Health services series no. 41. Cat. no. HSE 115. Canberra: AIHW.

The private health system

The private health system is crucial in delivering health services in Australia, providing a third of all hospital beds and over half of all surgical episodes requiring the use of an operating room.

The private health system offers treatment as a private patient in both private as well as public hospitals, meaning you can choose your doctor and have greater flexibility in scheduling any elective surgery that you may want.

The private health system also goes a step further than Medicare by offering additional services that Medicare doesn't include, like physio, chiropractic, remedial massage and more.

Why take out private health insurance?

Quite simply, having private health insurance makes using the private health system more affordable. By paying a premium to your health fund, you can access private health care if and when something does go wrong.

With private health insurance, you're buying peace of mind, knowing that you and your family are covered for a wide range of medical issues. It's made even more affordable by the Australian Government's health insurance rebate, which can be applied to your premium for both hospital and extras cover.

These articles are provided as reference material to allow more informed decision making, but are not intended as being a complete source of information on any topic. All readers should make their own independent analysis on the topic to make sure they have considered the aspects that are important to them.