Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

Australia has Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements with 11 countries.  These agreements entitle Australians to receive free healthcare in those countries.

It also entitles citizens of those countries to obtain free healthcare in Australia under the Medicare system.

Australia has current Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements with the following countries.

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

This is great news for travellers but if you are visiting any of these countries, you need to be aware of what is covered by the agreement and what is not.

Generally speaking, each Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement provides for Australians visiting these countries to receive publicly funded medical treatment for emergencies and /or treatment which cannot be delayed until you return home.  None of the agreements provide for Australians to receive unrestricted medical treatment.  Some agreements provide limited cover for certain types of treatment and others have time limitations whereby the agreement will only respond for treatment obtained within a set timeframe.

Let’s look at some specifics.

Finland

The agreement with Finland entitles Australians to free medical and nursing care at Finnish health centres and outpatient care from hospitals.  It also covers the cost of prescription medication and some travel expenses incurred for you to obtain medical treatment.

But, the agreement does not cover the daily cost of hospital accommodation, specialist fees or outpatient care.  You will need to pay these expenses yourself.

Italy

The agreement with Italy entitles Australians to free inpatient and outpatient treatment at public hospitals.  The treatment must be essential, obtained via the national health service and cannot wait until you return to Australia.

Australians are also entitled to GP and specialist care from public clinics and health centres.  The agreement also covers the cost of urgent dental treatment at public hospitals.

But, the agreement does not cover the cost of medication or tests.

Also, the agreement for Italy to provide free medical care to Australians only operates for a period of 6 months after you arrive in Italy.  If you plan to stay longer and need medical treatment after the first 6 months, all of the costs will be to your account.

New Zealand

This Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement allows Australians to receive hospital treatment, maternity services and pharmaceuticals free of charge.

The agreement does not cover the cost of GP or other primary care consultations, the cost of medication prescribed by GPs or ambulance charges.

So, you can see that whilst each Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement provides extensive access to free or low-cost medical treatment, none of them cover all costs.  If you find yourself needing medical treatment in any of these countries, some part of the cost will be to your account or passed on to your travel insurance company.

So, is it enough?  Can you just rely on these Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements if travelling to these countries?

The answer is no.

Not only will you be obliged to pay at least some part of the medical expenses incurred, there are hidden dangers of relying only on the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements.

One hidden danger is not just the out-of-pocket expenses you would incur but the cost of repatriation if medically necessary.

All of these agreements provide for urgent medical treatment in publicly funded medical centres but what happens if you are seriously injured or sick and need to be repatriated to Australia?

The cost of repatriation with nurse or doctor escort on a commercial flight from Europe is expensive.  Depending on the patient’s medical condition and needs during travel, this type of repatriation generally costs anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000.  Worse still is the cost of an air ambulance from Europe.  Again, depending on the patient’s medical status and requirements for travel, an air ambulance from Europe could set you back several hundred thousand dollars.  Ouch!

Have you thought what happens if you are taken ill during flight and the plane is diverted to another country?

Sometimes during transit a passenger is taken seriously ill and the captain decides to divert the flight to another country so that the passenger can be deplaned and transferred to hospital for treatment.  With long haul travel to Europe, this means the passenger could end up in a hospital in Asia or the Middle East.  If there is no Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement in force with the country where the passenger is disembarked for treatment, all of the medical expenses will be to their account.  The cost of onward travel to the destination (or return back to Australia) would also be to their account.

Whilst the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements offer great benefits to Australian travellers, they are not a perfect solution and shouldn’t be relied upon in isolation.  They do not cover all forms of medical treatment and provide no cover for the cost of repatriation if required.  This is where travel insurance steps in – to cover the shortfalls.  Also, bear in mind that these Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements are subject to change and before travelling to any of these countries, it’s a good idea to check with Medicare and Smartraveller to make sure you have the most up-to-date information about what entitlements are available to you.

 

 

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