The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) has rebuffed claims that demand for private hospitals is slowing, and encouraged the major political parties to do more to enable Australians to access private care.
Opposition Health Spokesperson Catherine King claimed in the Health Debate that ‘we’re seeing demand in private hospitals going down’, but the numbers tell a different story, says APHA CEO Michael Roff.
“Australians continue to access private hospitals in increasing numbers, despite decreasing private health insurance participation.
“According to the most recent Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) data, episodes of care in the private sector rose 2.2 percent in 2018, accounting for 3,681,533 privately insured hospital admissions.
“This continues a trend that began nearly 20 years ago, with no sign of going backwards,” he said.
Mr Roff said both major parties need to commit to helping lower income Australians access the high quality services provided in private hospitals.
“Households on lower incomes face a ‘double whammy’ of increased premiums and reduced rebates because every year the value of their private health insurance rebate goes down.
“For example, in 2019 a high-income earner who does not receive the rebate would have experienced a premium increase of 3.25 percent. However, low-income earners would have experienced a real premium increase of 3.74 percent.
“At the very least, the value of the rebate for low income earners should be frozen to remove this regressive anomaly,” he said.
If Australians are not able to access the private system, more pressure will be placed on public hospitals.
“Let’s not forget that private hospitals provide 40 percent of all admissions and 60 percent of all surgery. Public hospital waiting lists would blow out if even a proportion of this workload was transferred from public to private. This would result in a two-tiered system where only the rich could avoid waiting lists by accessing private hospitals.
“Australians value private hospital care. They want access to care when they need it, from the doctor they choose and the high quality of care and attention they receive privately. The numbers show us that Australians continue to access private hospitals given the choice and opportunity, governments should be providing more choice of care, not less,” Mr Roff said.
Mr Roff’s call was echoed by Private Healthcare Australia CEO Dr Rachel David.
“Financial incentives including the means-tested rebate are a proven way to promote participation and keep private cover more affordable for all Australians. An independent study into the financing of Australia’s health system concluded that at current settings, a dollar spent by the Government on the PHI Rebate is up to 15 percent more efficient than a dollar directed to the public system.
“Both major political parties have previously accepted the critical role the PHI rebate plays in maintaining balance in our mixed private public health system and ensuring its sustainability into the future. There is no good time to play politics with the PHI rebate - it is vital to maintaining our world class health system.”