This is a common question, frequently asked by people planning a lap of Australia. Rightly so, it is best to have a plan and be prepared for accidents or illness. Unfortunately, things can, and sometimes do, go wrong.
What happens when
something goes wrong?
We have had two incidences requiring hospital treatment whilst travelling Australia. The first, our 8 year old son fell into a fire pit at the remote Windjana Gorge, Western Australia. He badly burnt the palm of his hand, requiring emergency treatment and multiple hospital follow ups for dressing. The second, our 7 year old son fell off his bike, severely dislocating and breaking his wrist.
In the case of accidents such as these, we use Google to locate the nearest emergency department (as we arrive in a new location I always keep an eye out for hospital signs, just in case!). In both cases, these were small, rural hospitals. Upon arrival, we were met with country hospitality, taken straight through (that’s something you never get in the city!) and received wonderful care.
Care in a rural
Country hospitals are in frequent contact with larger hospitals and specialists. For both cases, we were referred to specialist units, for remote and in person consultations. The doctors would send through scan results and photographs to the specialists and talk to them on phone and email for treatment recommendations.
We were very confident that we were receiving the best possible care. Upon discharge, appointments were made for us and records transferred to the next hospital, ready for our arrival.
In the case of the broken wrist, an emergency procedure was performed without delay to relocate the hand to its correct position (medical talk; reduction). The following day, we received a phone call advising that the specialists at a larger hospital would like to review him in person, and upon arrival we were greeted by a team of three doctors and two nurses. Our son was admitted for monitoring and follow up appointments were made to suit our travel schedule.
Care in the public
All of this sounds expensive, right? Fortunately for us, Australia has a brilliant health care system. All of the above visits and admissions were covered by Medicare, with no out of pocket expenses for us at all. In the case of the burn, we were even provided with additional dressings to take with us. For the broken wrist, we were admitted to a private room with delicious meals, outpatient cast changes and six x-rays, all bulk billed.
What about Private
Now, back to the original question. We do have private health insurance, mainly because we always have and we choose to maintain a minimal cover to avoid future taxable surcharges that would apply if we were to stop it for a period of time.
However, we have never seen the need to use our cover whilst travelling. In remote areas, hospitals tend to be public, we have never come across a private hospital in a rural area, and in cities, the public system has always been there and provided the care we have needed. In our experience, in the case of emergency accidents of illness, our needs have been met through the Medicare funded system.
Prior to departing home, we had extras private health cover
in addition to hospital. We used it for things such as dental and chiropractor,
but chose not to continue it when travelling. In most cases, we would not be
using regular services, and it worked out more cost effective to pay up front
for those that we did use, rather than regular private health insurance
payments. This is, of course, personal preference, and may depend on the services
you plan to use when travelling.
There is one more area for consideration, in addition to
private health insurance. We all hope that we will never need to call an
ambulance, but if we do, the last thing we want is a huge bill to pay for the
service. In rural areas, Australia is very well serviced by the amazing team of
Royal Flying Doctors. We know people who have had to use this service.
Fortunately, a relatively cheap, annual membership, covers all ambulance and
flying doctor visits across Australia. For us, Ambulance Victoria is our local membership,
check with your state. In our opinion, being covered provides peace of mind for
just over $100 for our family for 12 months.
In conclusion, private health insurance is a personal
preference. In our experience and opinion, if you don’t have cover at home,
there is no need to take it out for the purpose of travelling Australia. The
public system in our country is fabulous. If you do have it, you may find that the public
system meets your needs without the need to be treated as a private patient.
Finally, a huge thanks to the nurses, doctors and staff who
have cared for our family. We are very grateful that you were available and gave
our boys the best possible care.