Need to know
- The health response to COVID-19 is led by the public health system
- Health insurance is not needed to cover treatment for COVID-19
- Testing for the virus and treatment is covered by Medicare and is free
Health insurer Bupa is just one business we've noticed playing on people's anxieties over the COVID-19 coronavirus. The health fund recently used images of toilet paper shortages in advertisements pushing their private health cover. (Bupa took the ad down following our coverage.)
The health response to COVID-19 is being led by general practice doctors (GPs) and the public health system. But understandably people are wondering: does having private health insurance get you the best care if you're affected?
Bupa played on public anxiety to spruik its insurance.
Will you get better care with health insurance?
Should you become so sick that you need to get admitted to hospital, the federal Department of Health has told CHOICE you do not need health insurance to get good quality treatment.
"In the case of hospital treatment, doctors and hospitals determine who receives treatment, the treatment they receive, and the timing of the treatment. It is not determined by the government or insurers," says a Department spokesperson.
"The private health insurance status of a patient who is affected by coronavirus will not determine their treatment."
While public hospital treatment is free for anyone who holds a Medicare card, you can use your private health insurance in a public hospital. Normally, this means you can choose your own doctor and have a better chance of getting a private room.
There are lots of reasons to get private health insurance, but COVID-19 is not one of them
Currently, all patients with COVID-19 get isolated while they're in hospital. This could be in single rooms or whole wards. Whether you are a public or private patient won't make a difference.
There are lots of reasons to get private health insurance, but COVID-19 is not one of them. If you want to check whether health insurance can save you money at tax time, do our quick quiz at doineedhealthinsurance.com.au.
What about private hospitals?
To strengthen the health system, the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has integrated private hospitals into the public hospital system. About a third of ICU beds available in Australia are in private hospitals.
If needed, public patients suffering from COVID-19 will be admitted to private hospitals for treatment. There will be no cost for treatment or accommodation in the hospital, just as in public hospitals.
Will you need to pay to get tested?
Public hospitals, respiratory clinics and GPs can perform COVID-19 tests for free for people who need to get tested. The government has provided funding for 100 pop-up respiratory clinics across Australia with many already opened.
What if I don't have Medicare?
Most people who are not eligible for Medicare in Australia will have health or travel insurance. If you do not have adequate insurance cover, some states and territories (such as NSW, Victoria and WA) will waive healthcare costs associated with COVID-19 if a person is treated in a public hospital.
You may also be covered under a reciprocal agreement. Australia has agreements with Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Under these agreements most visa holders are covered for basic medical care.
Ask your doctor or local hospital for more information.
New telehealth services
As another measure to contain coronavirus, telehealth consultations with GPs and other health professionals are now available to all Australians.
Telehealth or telemedicine consultations are virtual appointments via the phone or video services like FaceTime, Zoom or WhatsApp.
They are designed to keep you and the health professional safe from contracting COVID-19. You don't need to sit in a crowded waiting room and you won't be exposed to other patients who might be infectious. It also means protective gear such as masks, gloves and gowns will be conserved.
The doctor will assess you, discuss your issues and develop a management plan with you. If necessary, the doctor will organise for you to come into the practice for a face-to-face consultation.
If you need a script, it will be faxed, emailed or mailed to you.
Telehealth consultations are also offered by services for:
- chronic disease management
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
- people with eating disorders
- pregnancy support
- patients in aged care facilities
- children with autism
- after-hours consultations.
The government has increased bulk-billing incentives, so many of these services will be free.
Doctors will bulk-bill concession card holders, children under 16 years of age and patients who have a suspected COVID-19 infection or are more vulnerable to COVID-19. This includes people:
- required to self-isolate or self-quarantine
- 70 years or older
- identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and 50 years or older
- who are pregnant; or parent of a child aged under 12 months
- who are chronically ill or immune-compromised.
For everyone else – just like a normal visit to the doctor – out-of-pocket fees may apply, so make sure you ask beforehand. Incentives are available until 30 September and will then be reassessed.
For specific health information, see: