Rural and Remote Health Care in Australia

Published: February 12, 2020

It is estimated that around seven million Australians live in rural or remote areas. If you live in one of these regions, you might be wondering if a private health insurance policy could assist you and your loved ones during medical emergencies.

Rural health care refers to the delivery of health care services to rural and remote communities in Australia. These services are generally provided by private and/or public healthcare providers. These providers will typically consider the unique requirements of rural and remote living. For example, the distance from the nearest hospitals and the limited number of medical specialists in your vicinity.

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What's the difference between rural and remote areas?

The terms rural and remote are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. Rural areas are situated outside of major cities and towns and are often described as the ‘countryside’. Remote areas are even further away from cities and urban centres and are thus more isolated and removed than rural areas.

What is rural health care?

Rural health care generally refers to the health care services that are available to remote and rural Australians. These services are generally provided by Medicare, private health insurance, and community initiatives or a combination of the three. This type of health care takes geographical distance, service delivery, and accessibility into account and aims to address the individual requirements of rural and remote residents.

What are the challenges facing rural health care?

Rural and remote healthcare has its own set of unique challenges, including:

  • Distance from major towns,
  • Limited private health care facilities,
  • Less access to medical personnel, for example, qualified rural doctors, specialists and nurses,
  • High cost of accommodation if you need to travel,
  • Travel expenses (flights, petrol, public transport etc),
  • Limited mental health facilities in rural and remote areas,
  • Possible discrimination by medical professionals, due to the stigma associated with people living in rural communities

Travel and accommodation reforms for private health insurance

One of the key challenges facing rural Australians is the need to travel far and pay for accommodation so that you can access appropriate medical treatments that are not available in remote areas. Rural medicine Australia does not always offer all the services and specialists that you might need.

As of April 1st, 2019, private health insurers can offer remote and rural Australians accommodation and travel benefits as a part of their Hospital cover.

What are the travel and accommodation benefits and who is eligible?

  • Travel benefits, for example, covering the cost of flights, petrol, or public transportation.
  • Accommodation benefits, such as allowances for a loved one or carer to stay close by while you are in hospital.

However, private health insurers don’t have to offer these benefits as a part of their Hospital cover, which is why it might be worth shopping around for a provider and policy that do offer these benefits.

Take note: Travel and accommodation benefits will differ between insurers and could provide a full or partial rebate to cover the cost of your accommodation and travel. For example, some Hospital plans will require your carer to be a member of the plan, and others will pay for your carer to travel with you even if they are not part of your policy.

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How can you claim these benefits?

To claim your travel and accommodation benefits, you might need a few essential documents, which you will usually have to submit with a claim form to your health fund.

Documentation you might require, include:

  • Medical referrals,
  • Accommodation receipts and dates, and
  • Travel receipts.
  • You might also have to show that your particular treatment was unavailable in your rural or remote area and that accommodation outside of the hospital itself was required.

Please ask you health insurer what information they need before booking your surgery or treatment.

Possible exclusions

Insurers might not pay for these benefits when it forms part of their list of exclusions, for example:

  • Treatment that is not a medical necessity,
  • Cosmetic surgeries and treatment, unless medically required,
  • Dermabrasion, laser eye surgery, and eyelid reduction procedures which are considered cosmetic,
  • Treatments that are available locally in your remote or rural area, and
  • If the treatment is available at a facility 200 kilometres or closer.

How does Medicare help rural and remote Australians?

Medicare provides an online tool for rural and remote Australians on their Health Direct website, which helps you find your nearest GP or specialist. However, Medicare does not cover the cost of travel for these appointments.

The Australian public health system, also offers video medical appointments with doctors and specialists, known as telehealth sessions. These video appointments might be done at your rural GP's office, an Aboriginal Medical Service centre, a care home, or your own house, depending on the agreement that’s made with that specialist.

Medicare also has specialised mobile service centres that travel to rural and remote areas to help you submit your medical claims, enrol in Medicare, use their online tools and mobile apps.

Frequently asked questions and answers

What are the health insurance options for people who live in rural Australia?

Depending on your exact location, requirements, and budget you generally have a choice of a health insurance provider and their Hospital and Extra cover options. Fill in the quote form above and be sure to select your state to receive quotes available for your region.

Is health insurance more expensive in rural Australia?

The cost of health insurance is determined by several factors and variables. However, because there are often less people in rural and remote areas premiums might be greater because there is less competition between various health funds.

How much does rural health insurance cost?

The cost of rural health insurance will depend on where you live, your unique requirements, chosen health fund, insurance plan and the level of coverage you want. You might want to request quotes from various insurers and compare which policy meets your stage or life and budget.

What is the Rural and Remote Mental Health?

Rural and Remote Mental Health aims to implement awareness and intervention programs throughout Australia. Workshops aim to tackle the stigma against mental health and support individuals who might be struggling with mental health issues. Mental health in rural and remote communities aim to education families and individuals.

How to find the best rural hospitals in Australia

You can use the Australian Government’s MyHospitals website to locate rural hospitals close to where you live. You can sort the findings by name, state, or private/public institution.


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