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Since1974, New Zealand has had the Accident Compensation scheme, commonly known as ACC (after the government agency who administers it, the Accident Compensation Corporation). It provides accident-related medical services in New Zealand to visitors and citizens alike, regardless of how the injury happened (everything from a car accident to stupid drunken behaviour) and is completely no-fault. This includes the cost of the ambulance and/or helicopter from the accident scene to the hospital, immediate care, operations, medicine administered in the hospital, and follow-up care in New Zealand. It effectively operates like health insurance schemes in other countries.
The scheme is "free" - the scheme is paid for through levies on things such as petrol and motor vehicle registration (to cover injuries from car accidents), as well as general taxation. However, providers may ask you to pay a co-payment to cover costs not reimbursed by ACC.
If you suffer an injury while in New Zealand, seek medical attention first. Once you are attended to, you will be given an ACC claim form to fill in, which the doctor will give you one copy and send the other copy off to the ACC . Remember to supply your home address and a phone number that ACC can contact you on in New Zealand and back home if they need to.
ACC coverage does not apply to illness, as opposed to accidents, unless it is caused by a covered injury. A heart attack for example would not be covered, unless for example it was caused by a doctor giving you the wrong drug. Nor does ACC cover apply to ships and planes entering or leaving New Zealand (domestic flights and ferries are covered). Accordingly, if you are "planning" to have an accident on a cruise ship, make sure it's on dry land where you will be covered by ACC and not, for example, on the gangplank leading to the shore.
Due to the ACC scheme's no-fault nature and universal coverage, you can not sue anyone in relation to your injury.
The ACC scheme is not a replacement for travel insurance. They will not cover the cost of transporting you home or any expenses for the injury once you leave New Zealand.
The downside is that some hospitals are way overtaxed. For example, delays at Christchurch Hospital can be extensive and service can be brusque to say the least. As one example, the doctors appear to be irritated if asked questions. (While there are private hospitals in New Zealand, and while ACC covers around 80% of their cost, most do not offer acute care, so the victim may be stuck with the public hospitals). The physical conditions for patients are not great either. They are confined to six-bed wards with no telephones (including cell phones) or, in many wards, TV's readily accessible. (The cell phone prohibition is not aggressively enforced, however). Follow-up care outside of Christchurch can be quite different. Courteous, prompt, and efficient. A piece of advice: be prepared to aggressively assert yourself, if necessary, in the hospital. In Christchurch, dissatisfied patients or their friends can complain to the Canterbury District Health Board, and this can result in some improvements.
If one has a choice of location for medical care, Dunedin may be a good selection, as it is the location of New Zealand's main school of medicine.
Medicines prescribed for use after release from the hospital are not covered. However, crutches are loaned without charge, although the patients are expected to return them when they are no longer needed.