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Last Updated on 25 August 2019

Health insurance benefits for rural and remote Australians


According to the National Rural Health Alliance Inc., the health status of Australians living in remote areas is worse than those living in the city on almost every health indicator. A greater proportion of remote Australians engage in risky behaviour such as smoking, drinking to excess, and physical inactivity compared to the rest of Australia.

These behaviours contribute to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. 20% more residents of remote areas have these diseases compared to city residents. Ultimately, residents of remote Australia die approximately three years earlier than city residents, despite remote areas having fewer older residents.

Key Points
  • Rural health care encompasses the delivery of health services to regional, rural, and remote areas in ways that are modified to meet these areas’ specific circumstances.
  • Rural health insurance in Australia offers a range of benefits that differ per state.
  • Private health cover supplements rural health care. Read on to find out if it’s for you.

 

 

What is rural health care?

Rural health care is focused on the delivery of healthcare services to those living in regional, rural, and remote areas. The challenges faced by those living in rural areas include: the distance between residences and health facilities, a shortage of doctors and other health professionals in remote areas, and unaffordability of health services by residents.

These circumstances require healthcare services in rural areas to be modified to meet these challenges. Some features of rural health insurance include: assisted travel schemes for eligible patients, transporting doctors to far-flung areas, and covering or reducing expenses for health services.

The pressing issue is that despite these adjustments, residents of remote and rural areas typically do not have long-term health insurance. 52.3% of people in rural areas do not have health cover. This is troubling because those in rural areas also tend towards riskier health behaviours. However, they also face a higher cost of living despite receiving lower income, which makes the additional expense of taking out health cover harder to meet.

Rural health care: state by state

If you are a resident in one of Australia’s regional, remote, or rural areas, health may be a major concern. You might be wondering where to go if you needed medical attention, or where to turn if you needed assistance in paying for travel or accommodation en-route to medical facilities. Here are some of the rural health services currently available per state.

New South Wales

Seven out of fifteen Local Health Districts are tasked with providing health services in rural New South Wales. Even so, rural and remote health services in NSW tend to be sparse.

New South Wales offers the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme, which helps defray travel and accommodation costs for rural residents who need to travel long distances for treatment that is not available in their area. You are eligible if:

  • You are a resident of New South Wales or Lord Howe Island
  • You are enrolled with Medicare

IPTAAS assists patients who need to travel 100 kilometres one way to a treatment facility, or at least 200 kilometres in a week from multiple trips.

Victoria

There are five rural health regions in Victoria: Barwon-South Western, Gippsland, Grampians, Hume and Loddon Mallee. These regions are covered by multipurpose services that provide integrated health services. Some include urgent care services that provide first-line care for trauma cases before transferring out to a city hospital or a specialist. These are supported by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and rural and isolated practice endorsed registered nurses (RIPERNs) in places where doctors are not immediately available.

The Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme reduces travel and accommodation costs when rural Victoria residents travel more than 100 kilometres one-way to see a medical specialist. You are eligible if you are a resident of Victoria and not currently undergoing clinical trials.

Ambulance Victoria provides emergency and non-emergency medical transport, including emergency medical flights. The service is available 24/7. Ronald McDonald House helps with accommodation when traveling with ill children.

With regard to mental health, Suicide Line offers 24-hour mental health support for those in crisis.

Queensland

In Queensland, health services are provided by community hospitals, rural healthcare centres, and multipurpose rural health services. In addition, the Royal Flying Doctor Service provides a comprehensive range of primary health care services. Multidisciplinary teams can manage cases involving general practice, family and child health, women’s health, mental health, and oral health.

Queensland Telehealth reduces the need for rural residents to travel for health concerns. The state has one of the largest Telehealth networks in the country: over 200 hospitals and community facilities across the state are equipped with videoconferencing systems to make access to specialist doctors available to rural residents.

If travel cannot be avoided, the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme (PTSS) provides assistance for travel and accommodation for patients who need to reach medical services far away. If you were referred by your clinician to a specialist medical service and you need to travel further than 50 kilometres from your local public hospital, you may be eligible for PTSS. You must be a Queensland resident and qualified for Medicare. Patients may be asked to provide proof of eligibility.

Northern Territory

As most of the Northern Territory is considered remote, many communities do not have immediate access to health services. Outreach services must be provided by remote area nurses and nurse practitioners (nurses who are licensed to diagnose, prescribe medications, and render emergency care).

Telehealth is especially useful in the area to connect Northern Territory residents with specialists in the city via videoconferencing. My Health Record stores and passes the necessary information to doctors to ensure continuity of care.

If travel is needed, the Patient Assistance Travel Scheme subsidises travel and accommodation expenses if you must travel long distances to reach a specialist. These include fares to and from appointments, accommodation costs, ground transport costs (like taxi or bus fare), and petrol costs for cars. Flight services are provided by Careflight, St John Ambulance, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The NT Mental Health Line is a 24-hour hotline available for contact for any mental health questions or crises.

Aboriginal Medical Services employ health practitioners to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with clinical care, health education, and other culturally appropriate services.

South Australia

In South Australia, GP Plus Health Care Centres provide integrated health services for rural residents. The Royal Flying Doctor Service operates clinics staffed by doctors and nurses flown out to rural areas, while the Rural Emergency Responders Network is a network of trained rural doctors that attend to out-of-hospital emergencies.

Telehealth reduces the need for travel, using videoconferencing to connect patients with specialists far away. The My Health Record service keeps online records of health information of people living in rural areas, which makes communication with doctors clearer and ensures continuity of care.

For patients requiring travel, South Australia offers the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme. This provides subsidies for travel and accommodation (air travel included) for rural South Australians to reach medical specialists if they are at least 100 kilometres away from the nearest specialist facility. This treatment is covered by Medicare.

The South Australia Ambulance Service is available for non-urgent patient transport. Royal Flying Doctor Service also provides emergency flight services.

Lastly, Aboriginal health units are in operation to serve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and families.

Western Australia

Western Australia Country Health Service provides multi-purpose services to rural residents. Rural Health West provides outreach health services for ear and eye health and chronic diseases. The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides medical outreach services too, in addition to emergency medical flights.

Telehealth services are available to connect rural residents to specialists in Perth through videoconferencing, reducing the necessity for travel. If travel is still necessary, the state offers subsidies for travel and accommodation via the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme. Families travelling with ill children can be accommodated at Ronald McDonald House.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services are also available in rural Western Australia.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian government has recently launched One Health System to share resources between the state’s four largest hospitals and make delivery of health services more efficient.

Telecare Online Services puts rural and remote residents of Tasmania in touch with specialists via videoconferencing. My Health Record passes on patient information to doctors and specialists to maintain continuity of care.

If travel to bigger facilities in Tasmania or the mainland is needed, the Patient Travel Assistance Scheme can provide financial assistance with travel and accommodation expenses. The Hospital Link bus service is also available to provide transport for patients and families between the North West Regional Hospital and the Mersey Community Hospital.

Ambulance Tasmania works with the Royal Flying Doctor Service to provide emergency and non-emergency ambulance transport. Ronald McDonald House provides accommodation for families travelling with sick children.
 

What you can do

Health care in the regional, rural, and remote areas of Australia does its best to be as responsive and comprehensive as possible despite challenges regarding distance and resources. However, there’s no doubt that more health care options will be available to you if you take out your own private health cover.

Some benefits of taking out private health insurance alongside relying on rural health services include: circumventing public hospital waiting lists, the use of private rooms (when available), avoiding the Medicare levy surcharge, claiming the private health insurance rebate, and saving on money in the long-term on Lifetime Health Cover.

Instead of viewing it as an additional expense, think of it as a safety net that provides security and peace of mind. If illness hits, you may pay less out of pocket for medical procedures and treatment.

Certainly, there’s no downplaying the cost of taking out health cover. Some tips to help you get the best value out of your rural health insurance cover:

  • Sign up before your 30th birthday – the insurance premiums you’ll pay increase by 2% every year above that age thanks to the medicare levy surcharge (MLS).
  • Don’t overpay for services you won’t use: take out a policy that covers your needs and review it annually to ensure it still provides the best bang for your buck.
  • Do your research. Compare different health insurance providers and policies to make sure you get good value cover. Start by comparing policies or viewing our other guides to learn more about your options.

Our Health Insurance Comparison calculator can help you find a health insurance policy that’s right for you and your family’s needs.

Disclaimer: The above information is correct and current at the time of publication


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