Public health system: eligibility and costs

Health services in Australia are provided by both public and private organisations.

Public health services in Queensland are run by Queensland Health, and are funded by both the state and federal government.

If you are eligible for Medicare you can access:

  • public hospital and community-based services for low or no cost
  • subsidised services by some private practitioners, such as doctors.

Private health services are provided by private companies or not-for-profit organisations, with costs determined by the provider.

Read more about Medicare services.

What is the difference between public and private services?

Anyone can access public health services. Patients are treated on a clinical needs basis, meaning those with the most medically urgent needs are treated first. As a public patient, you do not get to choose the doctor who treats you, or the hospital you are admitted to. You may also go on a hospital waiting list if your treatment is not urgent.

As a private patient, you are able to choose your doctor, hospital and treatment time, but need to pay for all the costs of your care. If you have private health insurance it may cover some, or all, of the cost of accessing private health services.

Public hospitals

Anyone can attend a public hospital for treatment. If you hold a Medicare card, and choose to be treated as a public patient, your acute medical treatment will be free.

You may need to pay for additional services such as prescription medication, dental services and television hire. If you are admitted to a public hospital and your length of admission is longer than 35 days, you may be charged an accommodation fee if it is considered you no longer require acute care. This accommodation fee is not covered by private health insurance.

If you have any questions about fees, please talk to hospital staff during your stay.

If you are not eligible for a Medicare card, you will be required to pay for treatment. For more information visit the Medicare eligibility page.

In some instances you can be treated as a private patient in a public hospital, meaning you may get to choose the doctor who treats you. As a private patient you are responsible for the cost of your treatment. Some of these costs may be claimed through Medicare and your private health insurer.

Community health services

Community health services are located in each Hospital and Health Service across Queensland. They provide services such as health and dental checks, mental health support services, and support for dependency on alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Most services are provided to Medicare card holders at low or no cost, particularly if you hold a concession or health care card.

Medicare-subsidised private services

You can claim some private health services on Medicare, if you hold a Medicare card.

Things to know before choosing a private service:

  • Private doctors will charge a fee.
  • Some doctors ‘bulk-bill’ their patients. This means visiting the family doctor is free because the federal government pays the doctor directly through Medicare.
  • If your doctor does not bulk-bill, you pay the doctor and then claim some of the money back from Medicare with your receipt. This means you only have to pay the difference.

Medicare may pay some of the fees for allied health services in certain circumstances. Allied health professionals are trained to treat particular health problems such as hearing (audiologists), diet (nutritionists) and psychological health (psychologists).