The cost of seeking medical attention abroad
Each year up to 20,000 Australian travellers find themselves in difficult circumstances and require assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)i. Of those 20,000 travellers, many require emergency medical support including evacuation to the nearest hospital or even an urgent return to Australia for appropriate careii.
Accessing medical treatment in another country can be difficult, costly and complex if your situation is serious. While some countries have reciprocal health agreements with Australiaiii, others don't and may charge a lot to treat you. Some countries can offer a high level of medical care and have all the resources required for treatment, while others may notiv. We look at the cost and conditions associated with seeking medical attention in popular holiday destinationsv.
Medical facilities in Fiji tend to have lower standards and offer fewer services than those in Australia, with many regional hospitals only providing basic services. It is commonplace for hospitals throughout Fiji to require a financial deposit or payment guarantee from an insurer before a doctor sees the patientvi. In the case of serious illness or accident occurring in Fiji, medical evacuation to Australia is sometimes necessary and these costs can be substantialvi.
As with Fiji, Indonesian medical facilities are generally of a lower standard than those in Australia, with many regional hospitals only providing basic services. Up-front payment or confirmation of medical insurance cover is usually compulsory, even in the case of emergency care. Medical evacuation to Singapore or Australia is common and this can cost between Rp 149,514,410 - Rp 897,086,459 IDR ($15,715-$94,289 AUD*)vii.
In the major cities of Thailand, there are many public and private hospitals of an international standard where serious illness and injuries can be treated. However, in rural areas, standards differviii. Private hospitals in Thailand require confirmation of health insurance cover or a guarantee of payment before admission. In the case of medical evacuation to another destination, the costs can be quite substantialviii.
UK and Ireland
Medical facilities in the UK and Ireland are similar to Australia's. Australia has signed reciprocal health care agreements with both the UK and Ireland. In the UK, Australian citizens and permanent residents are able to access free medical treatment in certain circumstances under the National Health Service (NHS)ix. In Ireland, Australians are able to receive emergency public hospital treatment subject to the normal charges for non-medical card holders in Irelandx. Up-front payment for medical treatment is usually requiredxi and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, recommends taking out travel insurance.
Popular holiday destinations for Australians visiting Europe include Italy, Germany and France. The standards of these countries' medical facilities are high, but this is not the case in all European countriesxii, xiii, xiv. In Italy, private doctors, private hospitals and diagnostic services require either up-front payment or a deposit before seeing the patient. A reciprocal health agreement exists between Australia and Italy, which covers travellers for up to 6 months from their arrival in Italy and provides Australians access to public medical facilities if they fall ill or sustain an injury while in the countryxv. However, it does not provide for ongoing treatment of existing health conditions. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advocates that the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement does not replace the need for private travel health insurancexv. In Germany, hospitals require health insurance cover confirmation or a statement showing that the patient has enough funds to cover the cost of treatment. Medical practitioners usually require up-front paymentxvi. In France, medical costs can be rather costly with public hospital care ranging from €1,012-€2,510 ($1,450-$3,596AUD*) per dayxvii.
New Zealand is one of the closest holiday destination to Australia and an existing reciprocal health care agreement between the two countries provides Australians with access to public medical facilities (excluding treatment of existing health conditions). Repatriation and emergency medical evacuations are not covered under this agreementxviii.
Despite American medical facilities being of a good standard, medical costs are extremely high. Health insurance or suitable proof of ability to pay is required and, if not available, the patient is required to pay up-frontxix. A simple visit to a doctor in the USA can cost up to several hundred dollarsxix! A day in a US hospital can cost around $1,500-$12,500USD ($1,421-$13,489AUD*)xx.
If you want to find a reliable English speaking doctor in any of your travel destinations, be sure to check out the IAMAT Medical Directory. In the event of an accident, illness or injury overseas, travel insurance can provide cover for medical expenses. To get an online quote for your next holiday and find out more about available cover, visit Allianz Travel Insurance.
*based on exchange rate on 26 July 2013