International students on student (temporary) visas are not entitled to Medicare and must purchase Overseas Students Health Cover (OSHC) for the duration of their stay in Australia, to cover medical costs for themselves and their families. The purchase and maintenance of OSHC is a mandatory student visa condition. Students who do not maintain OSHC are at risk of having their visa cancelled and being deported. OSHC covers access to basic medical treatment similar to that for which Australian citizens and permanent residents are covered under Medicare, including in-hospital and out-of-hospital medical services, surgically implanted prostheses, some prescription medicines, and emergency ambulance transportation. The minimum requirements and arrangements of OSHC are stipulated in the OSHC Deed. This Deed is a legal agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia represented by the Department of Health and Ageing and a registered private health insurer that provides OSHC.
Submissions to the Australian Government in 2010 provided evidence that more than 70% of all health insurance claims for pregnancy-related treatment for all international students and their dependants occur within the first 12 months of cover and between 33% and 48% of claims for all hospital items under OSHC relate to pregnancy.
Since July 2011, under the OSHC Deed, insurers have been allowed to set a 12-month waiting period for non-emergency pregnancy-related services. On these terms, an OSHC insurer is not required to pay benefits for the treatment of pregnancy-related conditions to international students and their dependants in the first 12 months of their arrival in Australia, unless emergency care is required. Birth is not explicitly listed in the OSHC Deed as a health condition which constitutes ‘emergency care’.
The OSHC Deed does not specify who is responsible for providing students with access to health care. Health insurers may choose to waiver the 12 month waiting period, but there is no requirement or incentive to do so. If you are a female international student, or are planning to study in Australia, check your health insurance cover carefully and consider your options.
Impacts of the OSHC deed on female international students An international student, or the female partner of an international student, who unintentionally becaomes pregnant in the first 12 months of her arrival in Australia and is not covered by her insurance, is likely to have fewer choices about her pregnancy, and face significant financial costs on top of emotional stress and disruption of studies. Impacts can include the unsubsidised cost of termination, little or no antenatal care unless the student can pay upfront, the interruption or abandonment of studies, stress and anxiety. Some international students have also experienced discriminatory practices by health services because of confusion about their health insurance entitlements and their right to access health services.
Read our position paper on the OSHC Deed and international student access to pregnancy-related health care, which was endorsed by over 20 organisations.