Firstly, we pay a tax levy for our health care. It does not cover the cost of health care but it does significantly contribute towards the cost of Australia's health care costs. It is around 2% or 2.5% of taxpayers income. I've never heard of anyone objecting to pay the levy.
Should you have a heart attack, a stroke, cancer or childhood meningitis, you will get the best of care in our public hospitals and there will be minimal, if any, out of pocket expenses. You can expect to wait a long time in Emergency at public hospitals with a minor complaint as you are triaged into the most serious are dealt with first. A splinter in your finger to be removed will have you at the end of the list and you could wait many many hours in the waiting room, as you see drug addict overdoses treated before you and even drunk people who behaved badly and hurt themselves. You can go to Emergency for any health reason but I expect you are advised if it is minor, to go elsewhere. Nevertheless, you have a right to be seen.
There are many ailments that you will have to wait for in the public system. Allergies? Hip replacement? Dietician. The list is long. These items are wrongly called Elective Surgery, although often they are anything but elective, but generally they are not life threatening. What you can do is shop around public hospitals, including in the country and may get on a shorter waiting list, but note, generally the best surgeons work at what are known as our major teaching hospitals.
There are in capital cities and some smaller cities, hospitals dedicated to an area of health, such as the Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital and cancer hospitals.
Using tax rebates and penalties, typical carrot and stick approach, the government strongly encourages those who could afford it to take out private health insurance.
Mother has top hospital private health cover that her children pay for. Her recent hospital stay cost her nothing, aside from about $250 excess when she was admitted to the first hospital. That is a one off annual cost, so you never pay it again in the same year.
When I had surgery several years ago, I paid the $250 too, but as I was not an old age pensioner, I was charged more by the surgeon than health insurance or the government would pay and I had to make up the difference, which added to the $250 brought the bill up to around $1000. It wasn't urgent surgery and I should have used the public system.
But what I have since learnt is that you can use the public hospital system as a private patient. You have to do a bit bargaining. Tell them that you will attend as a private patient but tell them you don't want out of pocket costs. They win and so do you. Private patients are quite profitable for public hospitals.
I'd better mention doctors, general practitioners. I pay around $70 to my doctor. The government gives me back about $33. There are what are known as bulk billing clinics, where you can be treated for the cost of what the government pays. But there as not as many as there used to be as the $33 has been frozen and it is a pretty minimal return for a doctor. You will get good enough care, but it is not like having your own doctor.
Mother attends a clinic that is halfway in between, and as a poor pensioner, she would probably not be charged at any doctor practice anyway. She sees her own doctor who works there and she has come to know and complains about endlessly. R as a not so poor pensioner pays to see his doctor. His doctor knows his income in limited, and so at times does not charge R if it is quick visit. R pays for a necessary drug that for some reason is not subsidised by our government as many drugs are. It costs him around $40 per month. As a pensioner, most drugs are for him are about $5. For me, I pay the full price up to around $30 and then a government subsidy kicks in.
In summary, you are entitled to free health care in Australia. You just may have to wait at times, a long time in some cases and there are some aspects about it that aren't very good. If you have the time, generally you can get your required medications from public hospitals as a public patient for free (not entirely sure about that). Our system is not too bad, but disincentives for overuse of the public system are in place.