In Sickness and In Health

There is nothing fun about being sick while studying abroad. I’m prone to getting sick in some way, shape, or form, regardless of where I am in the world. In the previous post, you may recall that I suffered from full-on foot pain, after participating in some intense surfing lessons. It prevented me from walking for two days. I was actually sick before that injury, during weeks two and three of the term at UNSW. I lost my voice just days before my first oral presentation in my public speaking course, and had a major cough and the sniffles to match.

Although I travel with my own personal medicine cabinet filled with Zyrtec, Advil, Vicks Vapor Rub, Band-Aids, and much more, it’s sometimes not enough. So what do you do if you’re like me—studying abroad in Australia, and too sick to get better by my own methods? That’s right…it’s best to go to the doctor straight away.

As a nursing student and health care advocate, I truly admire Australia’s universal free health care system. Since 1984, Medicare has been Australia’s universal health care system. The Australian government’s Department of Health states that its “health system is one of the best in the world. It provides quality, safe, and affordable health care”. Australia’s Medicare covers the cost of public hospital services, general practitioners (GPs), specialists, services such as physiotherapy, community nurses for the aging population, and dental services. Under this system, medications are made cheaper as the government strives to keep health care costs low. For citizens desiring services that are not covered by Medicare, they can purchase additional private insurance. This is the Australian health care system in a very tiny nutshell. If you’re keen on learning more about the government’s responsibility to its citizens’ health care, or the challenges of upholding this type of insurance, I highly recommend popping over to https://www.health.gov.au/about-us/the-australian-health-system.

These are all great benefits for the permanent Australian citizen, or any country that has a reciprocal agreement with the country’s Medicare system. However, if you’re from America, chances are, Medicare nor your own private insurance will cover the cost of medical care while abroad in Australia. This is where that $300 Overseas Student Health Cover that you’re required to purchase before being allowed to step into the country on a student visa steps in.

As recommended by UNSW, I purchased my health insurance through Medibank. Medibank covers 100% of the cost for GP visits, so you don’t need to worry about paying for a doctor’s visit. I found much comfort in knowing I could see a doctor for free. Medibank also covers a percentage of prescription medications—up to $50. Student Health is located in the Quad, and immediately across the way, next to Q Lounge, is the Chemist (American Translation: Pharmacist). This option is certainly convenient if you are living on campus.

Photo courtesy of

Since I live off-campus, Student Health wasn’t always my best option. Making appointments to see a doctor at Student Health are often difficult, since there are so many students trying to do the same. I found it much easier to find a GP office in Randwick and Marrickville, who accepted Medibank insurance.

Lesson Learned #8—Find a General Practitioner within the Medibank Network for Full Coverage of Office Visits

Certain GP offices have special policies for non-Medicare patients, where the total cost of the consultation is charged up front, before you actually see the physician. A receipt is provided that can be taken directly to a Medibank office, where a claim can be filed. There is a Medibank office, on lower campus of UNSW, right near the Roundhouse (pictured above). Within 3-5 days, Medibank will issue a rebate to the Australian address you have on file. It is important to note that the checks are issued through Westpac, so if your American mobile banking account does not accept foreign checks online, then you will need to open an Australian bank account to access the money. The process is pretty simple and free at banks like Westpac or Commonwealth Bank. All you need is your passport and a valid Australian address. Rather than going to any GP, the claims process can be avoided by finding an office that will bill Medibank directly.

Quick Trivia

Full-on and straight away happen to be two of my favorite Aussie phrases. They are used so often and in such a subtle way. Take a crack at whether or not you know what they mean, and check your answers below! Hint: I used both phrases at the beginning of this post, so take another look at it in the context if you’re not quite getting it.

Rest assured, if you’re sick, you can definitely access Australia’s health care system. However, benefits for international students will come directly from your OSHC, not the Australian Medicare system. For more information on the benefits Medibank offers with their health cover, check out this simple and easy to understand brochure at https://www.medibank.com.au/Client/Documents/Pdfs/OSHC_Brochure.pdf.

Quick Trivia Answers: “Full-on” is another way of saying intense, big, huge—depending on its context. “Straight away” is the way we say right away in America.

Photos Featured: courtesy of http://www.healthservices.unsw.edu.au/ and https://www.medibank.com.au/overseas-health-insurance/oshc/

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