The Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has called for public consultation on private patients in public hospitals in a bid to further debate on increasing health insurance premiums.
This week the Minister released a paper, Options to reduce on private health insurance premiums by addressing the growth of private patients in public hospitals, it includes new data from the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority. It shows an increase in private patients admitted from public emergency departments increased by 38 percent between 2012-13 and 2015-16.
Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff, said targeting vulnerable patients in emergency departments to sign over their private health insurance is further evidence action must be taken to protect the rights of patients.
“The focus of staff in public hospital emergency departments should be on clinical care of patients, not exploiting people in a vulnerable state to try and maximise revenue,” Mr Roff said.
Mr Roff welcomed the Health Minister’s move to seek public consultation on this issue, which is a concern for all Australians.
“Obviously the State governments want to protect the income they are deriving from private patients in their public hospitals and are resisting engaging in this discussion. They are content to see public hospitals become privatised by stealth,” said Mr Roff.
The paper states that if the number of private patients in the public sector had grown at the same rate as private patients in private hospitals over the period since 2010-11, premiums in 2015-16 would have been about 2.5 percent lower than they actually were.
There are five options up for discussion to help address the pressure on private health insurance premiums arising from the growth of private patients in public hospitals.
Mr Roff said there are a number of good options for Australians to consider but it will likely take a combination of measures to stop the growth of private in public.
One option not explored in the paper is to strengthen the rules protecting patient’s rights when they choose to use their private health insurance.
“The existing rules fail to protect consumers in a number of ways and these could easily be changed. There should be sanctions if hospitals continually pester patients after they initially refuse election, if they don’t tell them about potential costs or don’t let them know they could be transferred to a private hospital.
“For many patients being able to choose their doctor is an incentive to have and use their private health insurance, in any setting. A recent APHA consumer survey showed 60 percent of people who were treated as private patients in the public system were not able to choose their doctor, so many patients are being sold a lie.
“It’s a failure of the system as public hospitals are allowed to choose cash over patient care, deliberately adding to waiting lists for public patients. I applaud the Health Minister for taking action on this issue, something must be done to ensure we have a health system all Australians can rely on into the future,” Mr Roff said.
The paper was also welcomed by Private Healthcare Australia (PHA) and Catholic Health Australia (CHA) who both raised concerns over the increase of private patients in public hospitals.
PHA CEO, Dr Rachel David said the discussion paper confirmed industry figures about the extent of the practice of cost shifting by State Governments.
“Public hospitals are pressuring patients who present to a public hospital emergency department to use their private health insurance rather than the Medicare system. In fact, many patients who intended to be treated as a public patient are signed up after they are admitted.
“The end result is private health insurance policyholders are now subsidising the costs of public hospitals, despite having already contributed to these through their taxes,” said Dr David.
CHA CEO, Suzanne Greenwood said Australia’s mixed public-private healthcare system is under threat if these trends remain unchecked.
“With some public patients in some areas forced to wait up to twice as long as privately insured patients for elective surgeries in a public hospital, the current system is undermining public patient access principles and requires immediate reform,” Ms Greenwood said.
Public feedback ends on Friday 15th September and more information can be found here.