All Australian citizens and permanent residents of Australia and their families are eligible for a Medicare Card, with the exception of residents on Norfolk Island. The card lists an individual as well as members of his or her family he or she chooses to add who are also permanent residents and meet the Medicare definition of a dependent (maximum of five names). It is necessary to provide a Medicare Number for a Medicare rebate or to gain access to the public hospital system to be treated at no cost as a public patient.

Medicare is administered by Medicare Australia (known as the Health Insurance Commission until late 2005) which also has the responsibility for supplying Medicare cards and numbers. Almost every eligible person has a card: in June 2002 there were 20.4 million Medicare card-holders, and the Australian population was less than 20 million at the time (card-holders includes overseas Australians who still have a card).

The Medicare card is used for health care purposes only and cannot be used to track in a database. It contains a name and number, and no visible photograph (with the exception of the Tasmanian “Smartcard” version which does have an electronic image of the cardholder on an embedded chip).

The primary purpose of the Medicare card is to prove Medicare eligibility when seeking Medicare-subsidized care from a medical practitioner or hospital. Legally, the card need not be produced and a Medicare number is sufficient. In practice, most Medicare providers will have policies requiring the card be presented to prevent fraud.