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Last Updated on 17 November 2018

Hospital vs. Extras Cover


Medicare in Australia covers treatment at public hospitals, x-rays, pathology tests, and immunisations. It does not provide treatment in private hospitals, nor does it cover out-of-hospital treatments like dental care and chiropractic services. Most people purchase health insurance to supplement Medicare so they can receive broader cover for serious illnesses and won’t have to pay out-of-pocket for many non-emergency expenses. When purchasing additional insurance, there are two primary types: Hospital cover and Extras cover.

Key Points
  • A hospital policy (as the name suggests) covers you for in-hospital procedures, treatments and accommodation. Extras cover provides rebates for routine check-ups, treatments and services like physio, dental, optical and psychology to name just a few.
  • The government provides incentives for Australians to take out cover in the form of a rebate and additional taxes, which are detailed below.
  • Each policy varies, so it’s important to check with your chosen fund and read your policy disclosure statement (PDS) to ensure you’re getting the cover you need.

Who Has Additional Health Cover?

What is Hospital Cover?

Health funds providing Hospital cover may pay for:

  • Treatment in private hospitals.
  • The “Gap” created by Medicare. Medicare pays some of the costs of hospital treatment as a private patient and you pay for the rest (the gap). Depending upon the private health cover you select, you can eliminate some of the gap and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Prescription medications not included as part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
  • Theatre fees, intensive care, drugs and consumables, and hospital accommodation not covered by Medicare.

    Here’s how costs will be divided for a procedure with a MBS payment amount of $100

Purchasing Hospital cover makes it possible for you to get more comprehensive care for serious medical illnesses. You will have a broader choice of doctors and hospitals than if you have Medicare alone, and you may have significantly reduced costs when seeking treatment for serious illnesses.

If you only purchase Hospital cover, however, you will still need to pay out-of-pocket for almost all routine expenses.

What is Extras Cover?

Extras cover pays for some or all of the routine care you require in order to stay healthy. Policies can include cover for:

  • Dental care, including preventative dental care, crowns, bridges and dentures
  • Orthodontics
  • Chiropractic care
  • Physiotherapy
  • Optical care
  • Osteopathy
  • Podiatry
  • Orthotics
  • Speech therapy
  • Eye therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Medical massage
  • Naturopathy
  • Psychological treatment
  • Dietetics
  • Hearing aids

This does not mean that every Extras policy will offer all of these different kinds of cover.

Important Differences Between Hospital Cover and Extras Cover

Health funds differ in the types of services and treatments they cover. There are a few other differences to consider, as well. For example:

  • Consider purchasing hospital cover if your income exceeds $90,000 for individuals and $180,000 for families. If you choose not to purchase hospital cover and you are a higher earner, you will pay a penalty equal to a percentage of your income. This calculator will help you to determine potential penalties. Extras cover is optional to buy and you face no consequences if you decide not to purchase it.
  • Lifetime Health Cover loading makes Hospital cover more costly if you wait to buy it, but this doesn’t apply to Extras cover. If you are 31 or over, you will be charged an extra two percent for each year over age 31 when you buy Hospital cover for the first time. This LHC loading is mandated by law. There is no legal requirement that health funds charge LHC loading penalties if you wait to purchase Extras cover and LHC loading does not raise premiums if you wait to buy Extras cover.

    How Much Will LHC Cost You?

  • Portability rules make it easy to switch Hospital cover, but not necessarily to switch to a new Extras policy. If you want to switch to a different health fund, the law says you cannot be required to re-serve waiting periods for Hospital cover as long as you don’t upgrade your cover level or have a cover lapse. Once you have Hospital cover, you will only be subject to a waiting period again if you want to buy better and broader coverage. These portability rules do not apply to Extras cover, although most health funds are not going to require you to re-serve a waiting period if you move from one Extras policy to another. You need to check carefully to determine if the Extras policy you are buying requires new waiting periods, but you do not need to worry about that for Hospital cover.

 

How Much will the premium rebate save you on hospital cover

Waiting Periods & Benefit Limitation Periods for Hospital and Extra Cover

The Private Health Insurance Act set limits on waiting periods for hospital cover, mental health services, obstetric care, rehabilitation and palliative care. The waiting period may be no more than 12 months for obstetrics care.  It can be no longer than two months for psychiatric care, palliative care and rehabilitation.

There are no rules for waiting periods for Extras cover. You need to compare waiting periods from different health funds.

Benefit limitation periods are a characteristic of some health funds. Benefit limitation periods impose a limit on certain types of cover for a set period of time, usually between one and three years. For instance, you may receive only $500 the first year you are eligible and then this could increase to $1,200 after three years with your health fund. Benefit limitation periods apply to Hospital cover.

Are Rebates Available to Buy Insurance?

Rebates are available for the purchase of Hospital cover for those with incomes less than $140,000 as individuals or $280,000 as families. The rebate depends upon age. This calculator explains the rebates you can expect.

Are You Required to Buy Private Health Cover?

Purchasing hospital cover is a personal decision, but it’s worth noting that if your income is $90,000 or higher, you’ll need to pay a Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS). However, the MLS does not apply to Extras cover. Below, you can enter in a few details to determine what your MLS charges will equate to.

Medicare Levy Surcharge Calculator

The Medicare Levy surcharge is an additional fee paid on top of the 2% Medicare Levy Surcharge that most Australian taxpayers pay. You can avoid the surcharge if you have Private Health Insurance (Hospital Cover).

The exact surcharge level you'll need to pay depends on your income level and relationship/family status. Use the slider and dropdown menu below to determine what surcharge you're liable for if you don't have private hospital cover.




Your Medicare Levy Surcharge is 0.00% of your income, or $0.00
Singles ≤ $90,000 $90,001 - 105,000 $105,001 - 140,000 ≥ $140,001
Families ≤ $180,000 $180,001 - 210,000 $210,001 - 280,000 ≥ $280,001
Medicare Levy Surcharge
Standard Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
All Ages 0.0% 1.0% 1.25% 1.5%

Lifetime Health Cover loading also applies for the purchase of Hospital cover if you are over 30 for the first time when purchasing. LHC adds on additional costs for cover for someone who waited to buy Hospital cover. Lifetime Health Cover does not apply to Extras cover. The cost of your Extras cover will not automatically be higher if you wait until age 31 to buy it.

Can You Buy a Combined Policy?

Many health funds offer combined policies that provide you with both Hospital cover and Extras cover. Buying one policy can be simpler since you only need to interact with one health fund. It can also save you money to combine your policies. However, you may be more limited if you shop for combined cover instead of shopping separately for Hospital cover and Extras cover.

Some Hospital policies are better than others in terms of covering the gap and providing other perks. Some Extras policies are better than others in terms of what Extras are specially covered. If you buy a combined policy, you may need to compromise on either your Hospital or Extras cover.  If you buy separate policies, you can get the best Hospital policy AND the best Extras cover that you need.

How to Shop for Hospital and Extras Cover

When you need to shop for health insurance, the first thing to do is to determine whether you want Hospital cover, Extras cover or both. You should then look at different policies including both combined and independent policies to find the cover that is right for you.  Be sure to carefully compare Extras cover as there may be more variation from policy to policy for Extras versus Hospital cover.

Buying both Hospital and Extras cover allows you to plan ahead for family medical needs so you can rest easy and not worry that going to the doctor can lead to financial devastation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Health Insurance

There are three types of health insurance in Australia. They are:

  • Hospital Cover
  • Extras Cover (also known as general or ancillary cover)
  • Ambulance Cover

Hospital cover can ensure any unexpected surgeries, treatments or hospital stays you may require will be covered. With appropriate cover you will have the flexibility to choose your own doctor and the option of receiving treatment in a private hospital.  Most hospital covers allow you to stay in a private room. One other perk is skipping the public hospital systems’ waiting list, which can be lengthy for non emergency treatment.

Extras cover pays benefits for a a range of services, often including treatments and procedures related to the fullowing:

  • Dental/oral health
  • Glasses and contact lenses
  • Podiatry
  • Physiotherapy
  • Psychulogy
  • Acupuncture
  • Remedial massage
  • Chiropractic
  • Hearing aids
  • Travel vaccinations

Ambulance cover, as the name suggests, will cover you should you require emergency ambulance transport. In an emergency, there is enough to worry about. Having the expenses covered for provides security and peace of mind. Many hospital covers include emergency ambulance transport If yours doesn’t, you will need to shop for this separately.

Life is unpredictable. You never know when you might need cover. No matter what life stage you’re in, there’s a policy out there for everyone. You can select as much or as little cover as you want, depending on your health needs and requirements. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind health cover provides.

There is no one answer here. Costs vary across providers and policy types. Just because a policy is cheap, that does not mean it is ‘value for money’ and vise versa. Make sure you check what’s included and excluded in a policy before signing up, as you want to purchase a policy that best fits your specific needs.

Premium: A premium is the price you pay for your insurance policy (it may be paid annually or on an ongoing basis).

Policy: An insurance plan. In other words, it is the type of insurance you choose to select.

Policy Holder: The owner, or ‘holder’ of a policy.

Claim: In the event that you require treatment for a service covered by your policy, you can lodge a claim for reimbursement of all or part of the cost of that treatment.. These days, most claims are submitted electronically by the health care provider (dentist, physio etc)

Lifetime Health Cover: Lifetime Health Cover was put in place to encourage young Australians to seek out and maintain ownership of private health insurance early in their lives. If you do not take out a policy before you turn 31, extra charges will be applied should you take out a policy at a later time.

This means you will pay a 2% loading on top of your premium for every year that passes after you turn 30. For example, if you take out a policy for the first time at age 32, you will be charged 4% of your premium as an extra, then at age 40, 20% and so on, up to a maximum loading of 70%.

The loading is payable for 10 consecutive years of cover - after which it is removed and you premiums will be reduced.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS): Medicare offers assistance for Australians with many of their their prescribed medication costs through the PBS. This assistance is in the form of subsidies towards the cost of many medications. You can check if your prescribed medication is on the list of subsidised items here.

Medicare Levy Surcharge: The Medicare Levy Surcharge is an additional charge (tax) applied to single Australian taxpayers who earn over the income threshold of $90,000 per year, or families/couples who earn over $180,000 per year. This surcharge is only applied to those who choose not to have a private health insurance policy.

The surcharge is designed to reduce pressure on the public health system by encouraging those with higher incomes to invest in private health cover.

Private Health Insurance Rebate: The government’s Private Health Insurance rebate lowers premiums for most Australians with private health insurance Older Australians may enjoy an even higher rebate. Our calculator can help you estimate the Government health insurance rebate you may receive.

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


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