New Zealand Health Insurance
The complete guide!

How does the state health insurance system work?

New Zealand has a public healthcare scheme that is open to all residents. This is funded from taxation and is either free at the point of delivery, or heavily subsidized by the government.

In addition there are Primary Health Organisations (PHO), which are district-funded healthcare initiatives regulated by the district health boards (DHBs). It is advisable to sign up with your local PHO once you arrive. There are currently 30 separate PHOs, usually run on a capitation basis as not-for-profit trusts, although some of the bigger ones, such as Midlands Health Network, are divided regionally for funding purposes.

All doctors in New Zealand must be registered with the government before they are allowed to practice medicine. Whenever you use a health or disability service in New Zealand, you are protected by the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights (Code of Rights). This applies to both public and private facilities, and to both paid and unpaid services.

The Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) has a list of registered doctors and you can check this when looking for a local GP. There are over 3,500 GPs in the country and you can also check the front of the White Pages telephone book, under Registered Medical Practitioners and Medical Centres or the Healthpoint website, which lists registered GPs by area.

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Who is eligible for state healthcare?

You will be eligible for state healthcare if you are:

  • a work visa holder who is allowed to work in New Zealand for two years or more
  • the holder of a work visa that allows you to work New Zealand for two years or more when combined with time you have spent in New Zealand just before getting your current work visa. For example, you will qualify if you had a visa that allowed you to be in New Zealand for one year, and you now have a work visa that allows you to stay another year
  • under 17 and your parent or guardian is eligible
  • an interim visa holder who was eligible immediately before you got the interim visa
  • a refugee or protected person

If you have residency status in the country, you will thus be able to access the public healthcare system, but otherwise must take out private insurance or pay out of pocket. You will also need to register with your local GP.

Special conditions apply to eligibility for subsidised healthcare if you are from Australia or the UK. New Zealand has reciprocal health agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom. Under each, certain services may be publicly funded for people covered by the agreements.

How do you apply to join the state health insurance system?

You will need to have residency or fall into one of the categories above, but you do not need to apply to the state health insurance system per se, although you do need to register with a GP.

What is covered by the state health insurance system?

Healthcare here is subsidized in the public sector, but you may still need to pay some costs; for example, for an appointment with a GP. This will depend on the surgery as practices set their own costs, but on average a GP appointment in Auckland will cost around NZ$17 (US$10).

New Zealand has in the region of 40 public hospitals and if you are a resident and registered with the public healthcare system your treatment will be free at the point of delivery. Waiting times for surgery can be lengthy, and some expats opt for private insurance to avoid this.

Emergency treatment at A&E units will be free to everyone.

You will need a referral from your GP to see a specialist, but if you are in the private sector, can choose which specialist you see.

Maternity services in New Zealand are coordinated by a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC), who is usually a midwife.

From birth to the age of five, all children in New Zealand qualify for a free health service called Well Child/Tamariki Ora. This arranges health checks and provides support and advice for new parents.

All children under 13 years are eligible for some free medical care. This includes:

  • immunisations against serious disease
  • regular eyesight and hearing checks at school
  • visits to the doctor

Not all GPs provide free visits, so check with your GP first.

If your child is 15 years or under and has problems with their sight, you may be able to get a spectacle subsidy.

Mental health services are provided regionally. You may need a referral from your GP, but you will be able to access emergency mental health services.

The state also assists with care for the elderly, including:

  • home care
  • financial support
  • social support
  • rest homes
  • retirement villages

You will also have access to a free medical telephone health advice service: Healthline. You can contact them on 0800 611 116. Healthline allows you to talk to a registered nurse about whether you should see a doctor, or to locate the nearest doctor or pharmacy.

In addition, New Zealand has a range of alternative health practitioners. These services are not subsidised by the government, but the costs of acupuncture and osteopathy for injuries caused by an accident are covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC).

Are retirees covered by state medical insurance?

You will need to have residency to qualify for public healthcare and will need to register with your local GP. It is advisable to take out comprehensive private cover, because waiting times for procedures can be long.

Are students covered by state medical insurance?

International students will need to take out private cover for their time in New Zealand.

Will your family be covered by your insurance?

Your family will be covered if they have resident status, but they are not automatically included under your state insurance – technically, you do not have insurance as such, as healthcare is funded out of general taxation, not from payroll contributions.

Is dental treatment covered by state health insurance?

Dental care is not covered with the exception of the Talk Teeth programme, under which children get free basic care for their teeth until they are 18. As an adult, you will need a dental plan, or you will have to pay out of pocket.

What are the contribution rates for state health insurance?

New Zealand does not have specific social security taxes: its social security system is funded through general taxation.

New Zealand employers have certain statutory obligations during the payroll process and can deduct amounts (banded according to salary levels) from payroll. However, these are not specifically for health insurance: you will be covered if you are a resident.

Why buy private health insurance?

Many New Zealanders do not bother to take out private insurance as public cover is so good, but you may, decide to avoid some of the strains on public healthcare by taking out your own policy. You will also need to cover the period in which you are applying for residency.

Check with your employer to see if private cover is included in your employment package.

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What is covered by private health insurance?

Primary and hospitalization costs, plus elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery and dental implants, as well as other elective surgeries, are covered.

How much does private health insurance cost?

This will depend on factors such as your age and any pre-existing conditions, and the kind of package you opt for (obviously, a more expensive insurance package will give you more a extensive range of treatment and facilities). As so many variables have an effect on the cost of international private medical insurance it becomes very difficult to give accurate estimates without knowing the full details of the coverage required.

However, as a very rough guide, using a standard profile of a 40 year old British male with no deductibles, no co-insurance, a middle tier plan/product, all modules included and worldwide coverage excluding the US, a ballpark price of around £4,000/$5,000 might be expected. Were coverage to be expanded to include the US then the premium could increase to almost double that amount.

Which companies offer private health insurance?

Many of the big international providers cover New Zealand, including:

  • Allianz
  • AIA
  • AXA
  • Cigna
  • Foyer Global Health
  • Pacific Prime
  • Southern Cross

Glossary of health insurance terms

New Zealand is English-speaking so you will have no linguistic difficulties if you speak English fluently.

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