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Medicare is a form of national healthcare system, which applies to citizens of countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States pay into a system which then ensures their healthcare should they find themselves unwell or in an emergency situation.

Although they have the same name, Medicare in the United States and Australia or New Zealand are pretty different. This article explains the differences and what you need to know.

Travelling to America?

America's healthcare system is something which is undergoing debate at the moment, and looks to be on the brink of reform but generally, this is how it currently works: Healthcare in the US is provided by private hospitals and clinics who are businesses in their own right. Most citizens and residents have their own medical health insurance which usually is provided by the individual's employer and extends to his/her immediate family. As health care costs have continued to increase, employers have asked workers to contribute to the costs. After retirement, citizens can get medical aid through the Medicare programme or Medicaid - a federal aid for the poor (similar to Legal aid).

Unlike most countries, the US does not demand holidaymakers, tourists or travellers have medical cover. The catch is this - anyone who does not have appropriate travel insurance runs with risk of facing huge medical bills, or being refused medical care. The US Embassy in London recommends travellers planning on staying for longer than a year to buy cover in advance of your trip or soon after your arrival - a view which is held by anyone with experience of the system. The Embassy says, "œTravel insurance is strongly advised. All receipts must be kept in order to make a claim. Medical facilities are generally of a high standard.

Travelling to Australia?

Medicare in Australia is their universal healthcare scheme and is similar to the NHS, with the exception that the NHS will issue medication for free, whereas Australian Medicare is simply a type of 'discount membership card' which will allow you to save money on prescriptions and medical services. It's a government program that guarantees all citizens and some overseas visitors access to their wide range of healthcare services at little or no cost.

Travelling to Australia can be daunting enough without having to worry about what would happen in an emergency medical situation, but not to worry - if you're a UK citizen, you are entitled to join Australian Medicare under the reciprocal health agreement between us and the Aussies.

If you plan on travelling to Australia, you will need to get a Medicare card if you wish to receive free or subsidized treatment. This card is a credit-card sized card which has a unique number on it, and shows healthcare professionals that you are eligible to receive treatment under the scheme. Getting one is simple - just head to a Medicare office when out in Australia (they're usually located in most towns, cities and suburbs), take your passport, NHS card and visa label and fill out the form. They then issue you with a temporary number on the spot and post you your plastic card.

If you do not have a Medicare card (even if you are from a reciprocal country), or are not eligible to receive one (i.e. the country you are from does not have a reciprocal health agreement with Australia) then you can still seek and receive medical help at hospitals and doctor's clinics, but you will be charged for any treatment or advice. Depending on your travel insurance, you are sometimes able to claim these costs back. Showing your passport will not suffice! Costs are reasonable, but when they could be severely discounted or even totally free then it works out for the best when you have a Medicare card. It's also worth noting that Medicare doesn't cover all possible treatments, so taking out travel insurance as a precaution is essential.

Travelling to New Zealand?

Healthcare in New Zealand is often perceived to be a lot better than the UK, when in fact it differs significantly. There's a split between public and private healthcare here, with a lot of people with medical conditions finding themselves investing in private healthcare as there are long waits for state hospital treatment (waits for surgery can exceed a year).

It's worth noting that New Zealand operates a severely restrictive immigration policy. Like most nations, it doesn't want non-residents to exploit its care system or for it to become overloaded.

New Zealand holds a reciprocal health agreement with the UK, so travellers to New Zealand are entitled to the free Medicare healthcare, and vice versa. However, the health ministry stresses that this provision is likely to be insufficient and that travellers should not rely on the Medicare system and the country's reciprocal health to give them free treatment for any situation as they would in the UK. Instead, travel insurance or medical insurance is advised, because 'the reciprocal agreements only cover immediate and necessary treatments'. It's also worth knowing that visits to a GP, non-urgent or discretionary services, rehabilitation, follow-up care, ongoing treatment, medications for existing conditions and repatriation are not funded within the reciprocal agreement.

Travelling to Canada?

Canada's healthcare system is also known as Medicare, and is funded by contributions from both the Government and Canadian nationals who contribute through their earned salary, similar to how people in the UK are used to seeing National Insurance contributions taken from their pay packets, but in Canada the amounts are slightly lower thanks to Government contributions. Unfortunately there is no reciprocal health agreement with the UK, therefore you will need to ensure that you have suitable travel insurance for your trip.

For anyone planning on leaving the UK and embarking on some travels, we advise that you don't rely on Medicare on providing you with the same level of healthcare as back home. Although reciprocal health agreements differ in details, it basically only ensures that you will be treated well should you fall unwell or find yourself in an emergency medical situation whilst abroad. By taking out a travel insurance policy, you are covering all bases and making sure you are covered for more medical situations than you would be otherwise, and you can travel with peace of mind knowing you will be in good hands should something unfortunate occur.
For more information on Medicare and what countries are covered, please visit the NHS website.

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