Does Medicare cover ambulance?

What if I need medical helicopter evacuation when hiking?

Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t cover ambulance. Would you believe that 3/4 of us Aussies believe this myth, much to our detriment?

In our urban environments an ambulance means the standard four wheels and flashing lights. However, when we’re out in wild, wonderful and remote places on adventures, it also means the flying helicopter ambulance and the ability to be evacuated. Around Australia, the average minimum cost of a road ambulance is around $1,000 and it’s not unusual for the costs of a medical helicopter evacuation to be upwards of $10,000. 

Does Medicare cover ambulbance

Yep, that’s right – if you can’t afford to own your own helicopter (or two), then you should definitely get ambulance cover when bushwalking or hiking in Australia.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Queensland you are blessed! You’re covered Australia wide for ambulance.

Down in Tasmania, things are a little more complicated for the Taswegians when they travel interstate. Although they have a reciprocal ambo arrangement (which doesn’t include SA or QLD, with NSW under review), it doesn’t cover air ambulance or helicopter evacuation (although they’re covered for that inside the apple isle). 

If you’re a pension card holder, you may be exempt, so check with your relevant state ambulance service.

So what are your options for helicopter ambulance cover in Australia?

There’s three main ways to go:

1. Subscribe to a state ambulance service

If you live in the following areas, you can buy a subscription to the Ambulance Service in your state. Just make sure that it covers helicopter services and when you travel interstate:

2. Take out Ambulance Cover from a Private Health Insurer

  • Check: does the policy cover you for interstate trips?
  • Check: does it cover helicopter evacuation?
  • Check: does the policy cover bushwalking/hiking/trekking? (These activities are usually included, but some policies might treat it as an Adventure Activity which would need an optional extra coverage).

3. Buy domestic travel insurance for one-off or annual trips

More than anything, it’s important to remember that there are some gotchas out there when it comes to ambulance cover and insurance in Australia. It’s super important that you read all the fine print and make sure that you have the right cover… for you. In researching this story, I discovered that one of the largest travel insurance companies in Australia, does NOT cover any medical expenses for domestic travel insurance, so make sure you hunt around for one that does and that it covers medical helicopter evacuation.

The importance of not entering closed areas

Having insurance in place is one thing, but ensuring you do the right thing, is another. Did you know that if you enter an area that is closed by the land manager (ie. a closed area in a National Park), that your insurance won’t cover you if you get injured?

“If people happen to have travel insurance, domestic or international and they enter an area that is closed by authorities and something happens, they would not be covered by their travel insurance.”

Lisa Kable, Insurance Council of Australia

Yep, that’s right. In times after bushfire or where there’s been damage to tracks such as in a landslide, National Parks or Council areas are often closed. Although it might be tempting to enter them whilst they’re closed (even for what might seem a legitimate reason), if something goes wrong, the costs could be much more than just injury or time out for rehab.

Please note: This article is about coverage for Australians, so if you’re travelling here or are a non-resident, it’s important that you check that your travel insurance policy covers you for hiking and helicopter evacuation, along with anything else you might need.

Helpful resources:

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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