Health Insurance Could Be Mandatory For Tourists After $30M Bill

Uninsured tourists requiring hospitalisation cost Australian taxpayers about $30 million in NSW each year.

Tourists heading to Australia will be required to take out health insurance before receiving a visa, under a new proposal by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

About $100 million dollars is spent each year in treating tourists at NSW hospitals alone, about $30 million of which is covered by the Australian taxpayer.

In one instance, a person travelling from China to Australia without health insurance suffered a brain hemorrhage while visiting family. He spent more than two months in hospital with several weeks in Intensive Care, the cost of which was more than $248,000.

In another, a person travelling from Poland broke their neck in a freak accident at a Sydney beach. Although they had health insurance, it was inadequate to cover the cost of treatment, and the person eventually returned home with an unpaid debt of over $180,000.

Hazzard has written to state and territory health ministers suggesting that health insurance be extended as a requirement to all temporary visa classes.

"Presently, it is only mandatory for some visa classes such as students and certain working visas to take out health insurance for the duration of their stay in Australia," said Hazzard.

"This means every time an uninsured visitor does not pay for their treatment in one of our public hospitals, taxpayers foot the bill."

About 16,000 Medicare-ineligible inpatients require hospitalisation in NSW each year.

The majority of costs incurred are for hospital accommodation charges, but also include providing prostheses for patients, radiology services and staff specialist fees.

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"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," said Hazzard.

NSW Shadow Health Minister said there was some merit in Hazzard's proposal, but expressed concern that there would be an explosion in "junk travel health policies" that could end up costing everyone involved.

"Tourist health insurance can be found for as little as $7.50 for American travelers, so there has to be a monitoring system to ensure that people are not just buying junk policies which are worthless and are only to meet the visa requirements," he said.

"This will result in both the tourist and the NSW taxpayer being ripped off."