A great system
The government run healthcare system is called Medicare and is available to all Australians and permanent residents of Australia. The Medicare system is one of the most generous systems in the word. Basically, it provides for full cover in the public hospital system and covers a great majority of cost for doctor consultations.
In addition, access to subsidised, approved medication is available under the state controlled Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
We understand that as we age, access to great healthcare at a reasonable price is a fundamental requirement for a great majority of us. So, for most Australians, having access to such a great system like Medicare and its benefits is crucial in providing peace of mind as we age.
As an Australian or a permanent resident, can I lose access to the Medicare system?
Unfortunately, yes you can!
To be eligible for the Medicare system you will need to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, be an Australian tax resident (even if you live overseas) and be in receipt of a valid Medicare card.
With the Medicare card having a five-year expiry date from date of issue, you will have up to five years remaining on the card after you move overseas before the expiry of your Medicare card. During this time, and with a valid Medicare card you should have access to the Medicare system no matter what your tax-residency status is.
At the time that you reapply for a new Medicare card, they will ask you if are an Australian resident (more specifically, are you a tax resident of Australia).
If you are no longer a tax resident of Australia, chances are you will not be eligible for a new Medicare card and will cease to have access to the Medicare system.
If you choose to remain a tax resident of Australia, you will be able to receive a new 5-year Medicare card and will continue to have access to the benefits of the Medicare system.
What if I become ineligible for the Medicare system and no longer have a valid Medicare card?
You can still seek treatment from doctors and hospitals in Australia, however you will be charged for the treatment provided with no subsidies provided by the government.
What should I do?
This question must be considered in conjunction with the financial impacts of tax residency v non-tax residency. Please read the section titled ‘Tax residency when living overseas – to remain an Australian tax resident or not?’.
I stated in that section that for most people it would be in your financial interest to retain your Australian tax residency. If this is the case, you can simply choose to retain tax residency of Australia and therefore continue to have full access to the Medicare system and its benefits.
If you are part of the minority that would benefit by becoming a non-Australian tax resident, then you must weigh up the tax savings from becoming a non-Australian tax resident versus the cost of paying for health treatment in Australia or paying for international private health cover to cover those costs.
International private health insurance
If you become ineligible for the Medicare system and have international private health insurance, depending on the policy, you should be able to claim the cost of medical treatment in Australia and other countries on your international health insurance policy.
If you fall into this category we recommend that you confirm, in writing, with your provider to ensure cost of healthcare in Australia is covered within your policy.
Some countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Australia
A small handful of countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Australia. Basically, this means that citizens and permanent residents from those countries will have access to Australia’s Medicare system, and vice versa with Australians having access to those countries healthcare systems at local rates.
Unfortunately, no countries in South East Asia are a part of these agreements.