People living New Zealand enjoy the benefits of the comprehensive and heavily government-subsidised New Zealand healthcare system. It is all part of the Kiwi’s way of giving its people an equal footing in life. Public healthcare is free (or in some cases, very low cost) if you’re a citizen, resident or hold a valid working visa for two years or more. You also hold the option of taking medical insurance of private healthcare, but many citizens and residents choose not to because it’s public healthcare is that comprehensive.

Public healthcare in New Zealand

Thanks to the passing of the 1938 Social Security Act, New Zealand was thought visionary for its time. It act laid out the principles for universal and free financial healthcare, which was, most importantly, barrier-free. The healthcare system mandates that all citizens have equal access to equal treatment standards from an integrated system.

If you aren’t a citizen or resident, you may still use the healthcare services but at a cost. It’s highly advisable to obtain medical insurance from your home country before you travel to New Zealand.

But rest assured, there is one other way non-citizens and/or resident may be treated under the public health system. New Zealand has an agreement with many Commonwealth countries, including the UK and Australia. This means, as a British or Australian national, you’ll get to enjoy all the benefits of New Zealand’s public healthcare system. While this is so, the included healthcare services are limited. This agreement only cover the costs of basic emergency care. The non-urgent healthcare services that include wellness physicals with a GP are not included. 

What services does the New Zealand healthcare system cover?

Under New Zealand’s healthcare system, individuals are entitled to:

  • Free GP visits for children under the age of 14 
  • Free dental treatments for children under the age of 18 
  • Free maternity services 
  • Heavily subsidised pharmaceuticals. Most will pay a maximum of $15 per prescribed item. Most drugs are free after 20 scripts a year. Individuals can also get a three-month supply (at any time) of all ongoing medications needed for common conditions such as hypertension and more.
  • Free access to nursing home. Home support is also given so that the elderly may remain in their homes for as long as possible.
  • Free HIV care and medication
  • Free emergency services and intensive care 
  • Free surgery if an individual’s diagnosis is immediately life-threatening or needs immediate attention
  • Free *elective surgery for non-acute conditions are also available, but is severely rationed.

*Elective surgery is known as medical procedure that require a waiting time of more than seven days before it is scheduled. The average waiting time for elective surgery in the Public Health Sector is about 300 days if you are fortunate to get past the waiting list. 

Paying for healthcare in New Zealand

New Zealand spends around 9.2 percent of its GDP on healthcare according to The World Bank. The system works as a single-payer healthcare system. It means that the government pays for the major of healthcare costs using tax money from the public. 

Based on the service required, the healthcare system is either free or heavily subsidised for the patient. Free medical services include standard diagnostic tests, prescription medication and immunisations for children below six years old. Furthermore, the government covers specialist and hospital care if a general practitioner (GP) refers a patient. 

A common criticism of New Zealand’s healthcare system is that it incurs comparatively high patient frees to see a GP. At over $55, this is a higher co-pay compared to other countries having similar systems. Thus, creating a huge barrier to access for lower income families.

With that in mind, lower income families may qualify for a Community Services Card (CSC). This reduces the cost of after-hour doctor visits and the prescription medication costs among the rest. Based on the number of dependents in their household, those who earn less than a certain figure may qualify for CSC. It reduces the cost of all after-hours doctor visits and prescription fees and the cost of a visit to any person’s regular doctor. 

Cost of healthcare services for non-residents and citizens:

Eligible individuals under New Zealand’s public healthcare system are entitled to the following:

  • Subsidised primary healthcare services, e.g., doctor visits 
  • Subsidised prescribed medication 
  • Free public hospital services 
  • Support services if you have disabilities 

If you aren’t eligible for government-funded health care, foreigners may still use these services but at a cost.

Expats would have to pay for most dental services, too. If you need urgent dental treatment because of an injury or accident, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC, see below) will help with these costs.

Doctors’ practices set their own fees. You can check consultation charges of different practices beforehand at your local district health board’s website. 

Many practices give free doctor visits for kids under 14 years of age (if eligible). Some practices offer cheaper visits to people that meet certain conditions, such as the Community Services Cardholders. 

Overall, newcomers to New Zealand need not worry too much about healthcare cost in New Zealand if they already have existing private healthcare. Accident treatments are fully covered (see more below) to ensure visitors and new residents have a peace of mind. 

Healthcare options for foreigners

Everyone in New Zealand, including tourists, visitors and expats are entitled to free medical care for accidental injuries. This is known as the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) programme that was established in 1974. If you do happen to get into an accident and hurt yourself, you are are entitled to free treatment.

This includes everything from hiking mishaps to automobile accidents. When you visit a doctor or hospital, you will be asked to fill in a form so that the ACC programme will cover the entire cost of your care. The ACC is funded through a combination of government resources and levies placed over license registration, fuel, business taxes and more. 

Private healthcare in New Zealand

new zealand healthcare system pills bill and medication
Photo credit: 123RF

In general, private healthcare is not a necessity in New Zealand because it’s public healthcare system is enough for most residents. In any case, private healthcare is used to complement the public system by providing individuals access to quicker, more specialised treatment for non-emergency conditions.

Private medical insurance for global citizens

New Zealand is considered the safest country in the whole world. In fact, as per the 2019 Global Peace Index, it is second only to Iceland. With a strong economy and low living costs – New Zealand is a desirable place to live and work for global citizens. For those intending to move here, rest assured that New Zealand is an extremely welcoming place.

However, newcomers moving into New Zealand won’t be eligible for public healthcare until they are granted residency status. With this in mind, it is strongly advised that all prospective expats posses a comprehensive international private healthcare insurance before making the move.  

Private clinics and pharmacies available:

Both private and public healthcare in New Zealand are excellent and easily accessible. Most locals rely on state-subsidised public healthcare. Private healthcare complements the public system by giving access to specialised and speedier treatment for non-emergency care. 

Although the quality of healthcare isn’t necessarily higher in all private hospitals, expats with private healthcare may expect greater access to all specialised services. Private healthcare allows patients to have greater control over which doctor or specialist they want to be treated by, as well as where and when the treatment will occur. 

Below is a list of all of the private clinics and pharmacies available:

  • Mercy Ascot Hospitals: One New Zealand’s largest private surgical facilities, with 22 operating theatres, a high dependency unit and an intensive care unit.
  • Southern Cross Auckland Surgical Centre: New Zealand’s first purpose-built short stay surgical hospital providing orthopaedic surgery, plastic surgery, general and paediatric surgery, ENT specialists, oral and maxillofacial surgery and dermatological surgery.
  • Southern Cross Brightside Hospital: The hospital is best known for its gynaecological, orthopaedics and urological care. Brightside was the first hospital in New Zealand to offer brachytherapy, a new type of treatment suitable for some people with prostate cancer.
  • Southern Cross Gillies Hospital: Gillies Hospital is dedicated to providing excellence in Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) and Head and Neck surgery.
  • Onehunga Medical Practice: This clinic provides comprehensive services like minor surgeries, immunisations, cervical cancer screening, ECG, spirometry, children health checks, minor accident treatments and more.
  • Lifeline Medical Centre: This clinic provides comprehensive services like minor surgeries, immunisations, cervical cancer screening, ECG, spirometry, children health checks, minor accident treatments and more. It also provides the Covid-19 vaccine, presently.
  • Cannabis Clinic: A clinic specialising in the use of medicinal cannabis to achieve better health and wellness.
  • Tamaki Family Health Centre: Apart from standard services provided by most private clinics, Tamaki also offers contraceptive services like Intrauterine Contraceptive Device (IUCD) and vasectomy. Telehealth consultation is also available.
  • Mt Roskill Healthcare (Sandringham Health Centre): This general practice aims to provide quality healthcare for all patients, with an emphasis on health education and preventative medicine. It also caters to many nationalities with a team of doctor fluent in English, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Kannada and Chinese.
  • Worldwise Travellers Health Centre Newmarket: This clinic provides valuable travel health advice and vaccinations to travellers heading overseas. 

Pro and cons of New Zealand’s healthcare system

While residents enjoy the high-quality public medical care in New Zealand, the waiting time can be a hassle especially for non-immediate or life-threatening conditions. This is why having private healthcare insurance may come in handy. Most areas of New Zealand are very sparsely populated and a majority of healthcare providers are based in urban sides of the cities. Waiting times in rural areas are longer than in cities. Having private insurance opens up more options to all available practitioners, ensuring you are treated on time. 

All permanent residents in New Zealand are eligible for public health insurance. But you have to do have been living in New Zealand for at least two years to qualify. You will also have to pass some of the rigorous tests before acceptance. 

It’s no secret that New Zealand takes care not only of its own, but others as well. If you’re intending to move there, do note that if you do want to stay long, you will enjoy the benefits of its public healthcare system in due time. All permanent residents living in New Zealand for more than two years are eligible for public healthcare.  

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