According to a Herald Sun investigation the number of people with private insurance receiving treatment in public hospitals has increased by 27% over the last three years, which is a two and a half per cent increase in the number of public patients who have undergone treatment. Figures from the Department of Health also reveal that patients with private cover actually stay in hospital for 22% longer than the average patient under the public health system.
It is a known fact that public hospitals have been charging patients with declared private health insurance nearly double what they are charging patients who are subsidized by tax payers’ money. It has also been alleged that some people are abusing their private insurance status by using it to get superior treatment that their policy may not ordinarily cover in a private hospital, but do people have the right to make that choice at the expense of other people?
Health networks in Victoria will add another 15% to patients’ bills when they have private health insurance, according to funding agreements released for 2012/13. This is expected to contribute $260 million in revenue. The news has been criticised by some as there are so many people with private cover now. It is also common for doctors to elect to treat some patients who have complex problems in public hospitals because they generally have better equipment.
There were also allegations of a 55,000 strong waiting list in Victoria and that it was because public hospitals were admitting higher numbers of insured patients in order to make more money. The Health Minister argued that patients’ health status was only confirmed in writing once patients had already been admitted so there was no way that people who had the means to pay more could be given preference of treatment.
He said that government had no right to interfere with any of this and that clinical decisions needed to be made by senior practitioners who had the right kind of judgment for the job.
Another critic said that unless the patient was being given preferential treatment like a private room, a choice of hospital or not having to wait as long as everyone else they should not even have to disclose their insurance status. According to Medicare everyone in Australia is entitled to free treatment from public hospitals.
According to the media source that broke the story the average cost of a hip replacement surgery is $12,000 for patients who fall under the public health service but this figure balloons to $23,000 for patients who have private health insurance.
Under the current scheme $9,034 is paid by federal and state governments and $1,771 to Medicare but for a private patient who needs a hip replacement an extra $12,000 to $13,000 is charged for the room and prosthesis, depending on the kind of fund the person has.
The news is of concern in light of the fact that so many locals are opting to get their medical surgeries and treatment outside the country because of the inflated costs and long waiting lists. Waiting lists particularly have been making news headlines of late as some patients are being forced to wait years for treatment even if they have serious conditions.
It is also concerning because people are being forced into taking private insurance out and are slowly being forced to fork out more for medical services but are getting less in return for their money. Next week everyone will see their insurance premiums increase but questions are being raised about quality of care and the sustainability of the model which is being increasingly unaffordable for the majority of people.