In Australia, cosmetic surgery and other non-surgical cosmetic procedures are not covered by Medicare and are rarely covered by health insurers, according to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsmen.

Plastic surgery — cosmetic surgery is a subsection of this larger category — that improves function or restores a normal appearance may be covered by some policies and may include things such as repairing cleft palates, burn treatment, bone breaks and reconstructive or restorative surgery after removal of cancers. However, if your policy excludes or restricts plastic surgery, these treatments may not be covered.

The number of enquiries from consumers looking for private health insurance policies that cover elective cosmetic surgery has grown rapidly in recent years, according to Matthew Cuming, spokesman for insurance comparison website iSelect.

“This is reflective of the increasing popularity of such procedures and that they are considered far less taboo by the general population than they used to be, ” he says.

But coverage for elective cosmetic procedures is light on.

“At present there aren’t a great deal of options for Australians wanting to take out private health insurance for cosmetic purposes; even simple procedures such Botox, skin treatments, dermal fillers, skin restoration, tattoo removal, laser hair removal and waxing are only covered by a handful of insurers and require you to purchase a special cosmetic or lifestyle package that sits outside of your standard private health insurance policy, ” Mr Cuming explains.

He says nib and Australian Unity are the most advanced in this area.

“It’s very important, however, that consumers understand these packages don’t offer 100 per cent reimbursement and in many cases you will still be left with significant out-of-pocket costs, ” he says.

In March last year nib offered insurance for cosmetic surgery and major dental conducted overseas with a new service called nib Options.

Mark Fitzgibbon, managing director of nib, describes it as a fee-for-service that bundles the costs of cosmetic procedures, including the pre and post-operative care. Mr Fitzgibbon says the service is used for treatment in Australia and overseas and incorporates each step of the process, from initial consultation through to travel and the actual surgery.

“While receiving cost-effective treatment is also a factor for consumers, we know that the most powerful attraction is providing safety assurances that only high- quality hospitals and clinicians will be involved, ” Mr Fitzgibbon says.

But the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons has called for caution when considering travelling overseas for plastic surgery.

“Cosmetic surgery is real surgery with real risks, which is why we urge people considering travelling overseas for cosmetic procedures to do their homework ahead of the trip, ” says Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons president Geoff Lyons.

“We have not been involved in developing the proposed packages or any auditing or quality assurance guidelines. This is a commercial package that has been developed by the health insurer and individual surgeons operating independently.”

Dr Lyons says people considering overseas cosmetic procedures should ask about the qualifications of surgeons and other healthcare staff and understand what happens if complications arise once they’ve returned home.

“Can they be looked after close to home or would it require further travel, ” Dr Lyons asks. “Would they be compensated for time taken off work for follow-up procedures?”

But Mr Fitzgibbon says the reality is thousands of Australians travel overseas for cosmetic medical procedures and surgery and he says it’s unrealistic to believe it can, or should, be stopped.


© The West Australian