Proposed tourist ban on free health care

ALL visitors to Australia will be required to have health insurance under a NSW government proposal to stop tourists getting millions of dollars in free health care in its hospitals.

NSW taxpayers pay about $30 million a year on medical bills for tourists and visitors who are ineligible for Medicare.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard has written to his state and federal counterparts calling for health insurance to be mandatory for all visitors on temporary visas, including tourists.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard wants tourists to have health insurance when they enter the country. Picture: Daniel Munoz
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard wants tourists to have health insurance when they enter the country. Picture: Daniel Munoz

Currently it is only mandatory on select visas, such as student and some working visas.

"Every time an uninsured visitor does not pay for their treatment in one of our public hospitals, taxpayers foot the bill," Mr Hazzard said.

About 16,000 foreigners require hospitalisation each year in NSW at a cost of $100 million - with about $70 million paid for by the patient or their insurer.

But hospitals are left out of pocket by $30 million for treatments including overnight hospital stays, prostheses, radiology and specialists for visitors who hail mostly from China, followed by India, Fiji, Tonga and Brazil.

 

Mr Hazzard has written to Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy. Picture: Josie Hayden
Mr Hazzard has written to Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy. Picture: Josie Hayden

In one case, an uninsured patient­ from China who suffered a brain haemorrhage spent more than two months in a NSW hospital, with a bill exceeding $248,000. Another patient left Australia with an unpaid hospital debt of more than $180,000 when health insurance was inadequate to cover their treatment.

"No person needing medical treatment will ever be turned away from a public hospital but this proposal will hopefully ensure taxpayers don't wear the costs," Mr Hazzard said.

Australia has reciprocal health agreements with some nations­, such as the UK, meaning visitors from there who end up as patients do not have to pay. Mr Hazzard has said many "overseas visitors mistakenly believe public hospital treatment is free".

"In addition to easing the financial­ burden on taxpayers, extending mandatory health insurance to all temporary visa classes would reduce the pressure on our public hospital system, particularly emergency departments," he wrote to Victoria's Health Minister Jill Hennessy.

The government wants health insurance to be a condition of the visa, meaning it would only be issued if the person can prove they have an adequate level of health insurance.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's spokesman said the government tried a similar reform in late 2017 but was blocked by Labor and the Greens.