Australians have a national health care system, Medicare, which was introduced in 1984. It is financed by a 1.5% levy on citizens' income taxes. Medicare covers most medical practitioners' fees and public hospital care. All permanent Australian residents are entitled to participate in the program. Since 1997, a single agency called Centrelink has provided all federal government health services.

The federal government provides funding for medical services and prescription drugs, and offers financial assistance to public hospitals, residential care facilities, hostels, and home and community care. It is also the main source of funds for health research. Federal funding supports the training of health professionals and provides financial assistance for students. State and Territory governments oversee health services, including hospitals, school visits, dental care, maternal and child health programs, occupational health and safety programs, disease control and health inspections. Local governments are responsible for home care and local public health programs.

About one-third of all health costs are paid by private health insurance or directly by patients. One-quarter of all hospital beds in Australia are in private hospitals. Private practitioners also provide most dental services. Centrelink arranges services to the remote Outback, as well as programs for native people. The Royal Flying Doctor Service is highly regarded for the medical service it offers to residents of the Outback. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Doctors travel to remote areas by aircraft. A two-way radio helps a health care team follow up with patients. The service is funded by donations from government, the general public and corporate sponsors.

Australia has produced many important medical researchers and scientists. Nobel Prize recipient Howard Florey was a co-discoverer of the antibiotic penicillin. Nobel laureate Lawrence Bragg was honoured for his work in X-ray crystallography. Earl Owen pioneered microscopic surgery, and Graeme Clark developed the bionic ear. Barry Marshall identified the bacteria causing stomach ulcers, which were once thought to be psychosomatic. Fred Hollows is recognized for his work in removing optical cataracts from children in developing countries.

   Did you know?

Because Australians spend most of their spare time on the beach or participating in outdoor activities, they have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. It is common to see surfers and lifeguards wearing a thick coating of white zinc on their lips and noses to protect them from the sun.