Healthcare facilities in New Zealand for those looking to emigrate to the country can be another thing to worry about, after visas, work, finding a place to live and getting the kids into school. But getting a clear idea of what to expect as early as possible will help put your mind at rest and should help you avoid any unexpected pitfalls – though there aren’t too many of those in this case.
New Zealand operates a two-tier healthcare system much like the UK: there’s state provision and the quality and availability are very good, but there can be queues. Waits for surgeries can be longer than a year in some cases, though these are typically non-urgent or elective surgeries. On the other hand the hospital network is large and functions quite well, and access to medical care is free to anyone legally in New Zealand, whether you’re a tourist, a resident or a citizen.
There’s also private healthcare, represented countrywide by companies like the not-for-profit Southern Cross Health Insurance, tellingly New Zealand’s largest private healthcare insurer, covering about a quarter of the population.
Dentists and GP’s in New Zealand
Children can get free dental care until they’re 18, but otherwise dental care isn’t part of the public healthcare system. Dental fees range from NZ85.00 for a check-up through about NZ$150.00 for a simple filling to NZ1200.00 or more for complex procedures like ceramic crowns.
You’ll also find that you have to pay to see a GP, and pay again for medications. These payments are subsidised if you carry a community healthcare card, or you’re a high user. If you’re under 18 or over 45, GP visits are subsidized. Everyone else pays, from NZ$20.00 to NZ$65.00 per visit. Fees for dispensing chemists are quite low, though, typically about NZ$5.00.Typically you should expect to see a doctor within one to two days of contacting a surgery, but in large cities it can take a little longer.
In theory, you can choose your own GP and change at any time without giving a reason: you might want a woman or man doctor, or one from the same ethnic or cultural background as you, for instance. In small towns, though, this might not be possible.
One quirk of the New Zealand health system is that any injury or ailment deemed to be the result of an accident is not centrally financed, being instead paid for by a local taxation system. Treatment for any healthcare condition in New Zealand is heavily subsidized for residents; treatment for accidental injury is free, even if you’re the one who caused the accident. One result of this is that claims for compensation for accidents are very rare in New Zealand, since there’s little profit in them. Another is that New Zealanders have caught on and will present with ‘accidental’ ailments whatever the real cause!
New Zealand has one of the most efficient healthcare services in the world, spending about 8.9% of its GDP on healthcare – about US$2, 510.00 per person yearly (NZ$2, 980.00, or £1, 547), as compared with a highly inefficient service like the US where healthcare costs about US$7, 290.00 (NZ$8, 656.00, or £4,350.00) – about two and a half times as much. Before any conclusions are drawn about methods of administering healthcare, though, part of the reason New Zealand’s healthcare is so cheap is because New Zealanders take less medications than almost anyone else in the developed world.
Healthcare and Visas
What access you’ll have to New Zealand healthcare is strongly dependent on your visa. The New Zealand government website says that the Kiwi health system is ‘built on Kiwi’s inbuilt need to see that everyone gets ‘a fair go’ in life’ – but in practice that means everyone with a visa. If you’re in New Zealand on a work permit for less than two years and don’t have permanent residency, the government advises you to get private health insurance. You’ll be able to access all the facilities everyone else does, but you’ll have to pay for them.
While some of your healthcare costs will be borne by the government under the reciprocal agreement with the UK whereby New Zealanders can use UK hospitals and vice versa, this agreement only covers care that’s ‘immediate and necessary.’ That might not cover chronic or pre-existing conditions, complex or long term treatments like physio, or long-term access to a doctor. If you show up at a hospital, they’ll treat you for free but otherwise you need health insurance.
New Zealand is anxious to keep the costs of its healthcare system down. That’s one reason they’ll want you to undergo a medical examination as part of the visa process. The aim of this is to make sure that you’re unlikely to cost the system more than NZ$25, 000.00 over four years (about £3, 000.00 a year). When you’re assessed, they’re looking for costly chronic conditions like hepatitis, HIV or cancer, osteoarthritis, major transplants, serious autoimmune problems, COPD and genetic disorders or abnormalities. The logic behind this may seem cold, but it is at least simple: no-one can stop you using New Zealand’s subsidized healthcare system once you’re there, which is why you can’t simply cover the cost of your treatment yourself by agreeing to buy health insurance.
Once you’re in New Zealand, abortion is legal and widely available, but it’s only accessible if the life of either the mother or the foetus is in danger, and two physicians have to agree, so access is restricted compared to some countries, including the UK.
Another consideration is your weight. New Zealand is one of the developed world’s most overweight nations, and immigration controls are strict on obese migrants; the New Zealand government’s guide for physicians examining new migrants suggests that the cut-off point be a BMI of 35, and in 2013 a South African chef who had lived in New Zealand for six years was in danger of being deported in case his obesity laid too great a strain on the Kiwi health service!
Like many things, your healthcare facilities in New Zealand experience will depend on your visa situation, so it’s wise to get on top of that as soon as possible. If you’re going on a visa that doesn’t guarantee residency rights, it’s a good idea to arrange medical coverage and set some money aside for dental care or sudden medical problems. Otherwise, you can expect the famous New Zealand ‘fair go’!