It’s tempting to skimp on insurance when travelling abroad to cut costs, but this can completely backfire on you if you get ill or are injured during your trip. Without adequate travel insurance in place, you could quickly find that the cost of medical treatment becomes extortionate, especially if your situation requires a medical evacuation back to Australia.
What Type of Insurance Do You Need?
Private health insurance won’t protect you outside of Australia, which is why a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers all medical expenses for illness and injury is recommended instead. Overseas hospitals and medical centres won’t usually accept Australian and other foreign health insurance policies, so you’ll be asked to pay for treatment(s) in cash if you don’t have travel insurance with extensive medical coverage factored in.
Are There Any Exceptions?
Australia has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with a small number of countries, through which Australian citizens can be covered for treatment that is deemed medically necessary as a result of illness or injury. The following countries are included:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- Republic of Ireland
- The Netherlands
If you require treatment through a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement while you’re visiting one of the participating countries, you’ll need to present a valid Australian passport or other proof of your Australian residency and a valid Medicare card.
If you’re planning a cruise trip, you’ll be eligible for Medicare benefits only if you’re moving between two Australian ports. For any trip that involves travelling to or from ports outside of Australia, you won’t be able to claim Medicare benefits. Even if you’re eligible for Medicare benefits, it’s still a good idea to arrange comprehensive travel insurance to give you further protection beyond the things that Medicare covers.
Is Lifetime Health Cover Affected?
For overseas trips, you can arrange for your private hospital cover to be temporarily suspended to avoid paying premiums while you’re not able to use it without it impacting on your Lifetime Health Cover (LHC) loading. Your health fund can choose to allow you a period of suspension following your application and, if this is the case, you won’t have to pay LHC loading fees during your suspension. The duration of your suspension won’t be up to you though – your health fund will make that decision.
If your trip is going to be of the extended variety and will last for over twelve months, you can cancel your private hospital cover without having to pay LHC loading fees for that time frame when you return to Australia. You can visit Australia for up to 90 days and still be deemed to be overseas.
For visits of longer than 90 days, you’ll be eating into your “permitted days without hospital cover” – of which you can have 1,094 days without affecting your LHC. If you go beyond 1,094 days without taking out private hospital cover again on your return to Australia, you won’t be exempt from LHC loading once you move onto the 1,095th day.
Even if you’re exempt from loading fees, bear in mind that you may still have to pay the Medicare Levy Surcharge if you earn enough to qualify for this.
For trips outside of Australia, taking out travel insurance with extensive medical coverage is a must. Private health insurance won’t offer protection outside of Australia so you’ll need to arrange comprehensive travel insurance to avoid being hit with expensive medical costs if illness or injury affects you while you’re there.