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The Australian health system

Australia's health system is one of the best in the world. It provides quality, safe and affordable health care for you and your family.

Our health landscape

Australia’s health system is one of the best in the world. It provides quality, safe and affordable health care for you and your family.

Government responsibilities

The Australian and state and territory governments share responsibility for running our health system.

The Australian Government is responsible for:

  • the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)
  • the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • jointly funding public hospitals  which are owned and operated by the states and territories
  • subsidising and regulating aged care services, including  residential care, care at home and other care such as respite care
  • supporting quality, effectiveness and efficiency in primary health care and access to appropriate care for all consumers, including after hours care
  • working with the health and medical professions and education sector to ensure the right health workforce and promote equitable access across Australia
  • funding a range of population health programs and campaigns to promote healthier lifestyles and prevent chronic disease
  • funding primary level mental health services and suicide prevention services and providing national leadership
  • regulating therapeutic goods and medical devices through the Therapeutic Goods Administration
  • developing and disseminating health and welfare information and statistics through the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • supporting our high quality medical research sector with funding from the Medical Research Future Fund and the National Health and Medical Research Council
  • supporting and regulating private health insurance to maintain a strong private health sector which promotes choice
  • funding programs specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, including community-controlled health care organisations
  • providing veterans’ health care through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • providing safe, quality vaccines for the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and funding or jointly funding preventive health screening for bowel cancer, cervical cancer and breast cancer
  • enabling access to organ and tissue transplants, including through a nationally coordinated and consistent approach and system
  • enabling access to a secure supply of safe and affordable blood products  through national supply arrangements and best practice standards 
  • subsidising hearing services 
  • coordinating the national response to health emergencies, including pandemics
  • ensuring a safe food supply in Australia and New Zealand
  • providing radiation protection to Australian people and the environment through nuclear safety research, policy, and regulation
  • providing national leadership in cancer control, with targeted research, cancer service development, education and consumer support.

The Health portfolio is also responsible for national sports programs, including programs to improve opportunities for community participation in sport and recreation, promote excellence in high-performance athletes, protect the integrity of sport, and coordinate Commonwealth involvement in major sporting events.

States and territories are responsible for:

  • managing and jointly funding public hospitals
  • delivering preventive services (including programs jointly funded by the Commonwealth) such as breast cancer screening and immunisation programs
  • community health services
  • providing  community, hospital and crisis mental health services
  • public dental clinics
  • ambulance and emergency services
  • patient transport and subsidy schemes
  • food safety and handling regulation
  • regulating, inspecting, licensing and monitoring health premises.

Some shared arrangements are detailed in national agreements, such as under the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). They include:

  • funding public hospital services
  • preventive services, such as free cancer screening programs
  • registering and accrediting health professionals
  • funding palliative care
  • national mental health reform
  • responding to national health emergencies.

Local governments also play an important role in the health system. They provide a range of environmental and public health services, community-based health and home care services.

Medicare — the foundation of our health system

Medicare is Australia’s universal health insurance scheme. It guarantees all Australians (and some overseas visitors) access to a wide range of health and hospital services at little or no cost.

Find out more on our Medicare page.

The cost of health care in Australia

The Australian Government spends a lot of money every year on many health and aged care services and sport programs. In 2017–18, the department is forecast to spend $87.9 billion on health and aged care in Australia.

Last updated: 
10 August 2018