All citizens and permanent residents are automatically entitled to state healthcare and it isn’t necessary to establish a contributions record. If you’re a visitor or temporary migrant and a national of a country with which New Zealand has a reciprocal agreement (such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Jersey, the Netherlands and the UK), you can also receive state health benefits. Otherwise you must pay the full cost of healthcare.
The basic principle of state healthcare in New Zealand is that hospital in-patient treatment is provided free, whereas the cost of out-patient and non-hospital treatment (e.g. consultations with a family doctor and prescribed medicines) must be paid for by patients (although services are subsidised).
Those on low incomes can apply for a Community Services Card (CSC) which entitles them to a discount on healthcare costs (freephone 0800-999 999 for information). There’s no automatic reduction in charges for special groups, although free doctors' services are provided for children under six. Pensioners aren’t automatically entitled to reduced-cost services unless they have a low income. Note that dental treatment and optical services are largely outside the scope of the state health scheme.
For information about public health services in New Zealand contact the Ministry of Health, PO Box 5013, Wellington (Tel. 04-496 2000, www.moh.govt.nz).
Accident Compensation Scheme
Medical treatment required as the result of an accident isn’t covered by the state healthcare scheme but by the accident compensation scheme operated by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC, www.acc.co.nz). Medical benefits paid by the ACC are more comprehensive than the basic state health scheme and include all treatment, including surgery, hospital care, specialists, doctor’s fees and medicines, irrespective of where or how the accident occurred and who was to blame.
Under the Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Act of 2000, medical expenses are paid in full and claimants are paid a weekly allowance but must go through comprehensive monitored rehabilitation before they receive any lump sum compensation. This compensation is paid only after the claimant’s condition has stabilised or after two years, provided the claimant has ‘whole person impairment’.
The advantages of this scheme, which is unique, are that you don’t need to buy private accident insurance (although you can if you wish) or sue a guilty party for compensation (in fact the law forbids you to do this). The main disadvantage is that the benefits aren’t usually as generous as they would be with private insurance or compensation as great as you could receive as a result of taking legal action against someone who causes an accident.