Health care in Australia
The health care system in Australia has two parts: the public health system and the private health system. People can often choose whether to be treated publicly or privately, and many people treated for cancer use a mix of public and private health services. Finding your way through this system can be challenging, particularly when you are dealing with the physical, emotional and financial impacts of cancer.
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The Australian Government provides free or subsidised medical and hospital services through Medicare to citizens and permanent residents of Australia. Medicare is also available to other people who meet certain requirements (e.g. some overseas visitors).
Under Medicare, you are entitled to free treatment as a public patient in a public hospital, even if you have private health insurance. However, you can’t choose your doctor and you might have to wait for treatment.
Medicare also provides benefits for out-of-hospital services, such as visits to general practitioners (GPs), specialists and optometrists, but it doesn’t cover dental (with exceptions), ambulance or private home nursing services (see Paying for treatment). Some people are able to get a Medicare benefit for allied health services such as physiotherapy or psychology – talk to your GP for more information.
Public hospitals often provide a wider range of services than private hospitals, including emergency departments, specialist surgical and medical units, and allied health services. They usually provide services to patients both in hospital and through outpatient clinics.
Many people prefer to be treated privately so they can choose their own doctor or health professional, and don’t have to wait as long for treatment. Cancer care delivered in the private system includes:
- consultations with your oncologist, surgeon or GP
- cancer treatments (e.g. surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy)
- tests such as blood tests, x-rays and imaging scans
- services by allied health professionals.
Doctors, service providers and hospitals in the private sector can set their own fees. People may take out private health insurance to help cover the cost of hospital treatment as a private patient.
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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