• Private hospital activity yet to recover from COVID-19

    Australia’s private hospitals are not yet back to the elective surgery levels they were performing pre-COVID-19, and while there has been an uptick in activity, it is well below expected levels.

    The latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority data released today showed anticipated episodes of care were more than 60,000 down on expected levels for the three months to the end of September.

    Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said although there had been a welcome increase in activity by private hospitals, it is well below what was anticipated.

    “There are now a staggering half a million ‘missing episodes’ of care in private hospitals since 2020.

    “Hospitals are challenged by the dual impacts of increasing costs and reduced revenue. As with many other Australians, private hospitals are seeing costs spike, with no indication of when ‘normal’ revenue will be restored.”

    Mr Roff said the current wave of COVID-19 is concerning for the sector which is already seeing a surge in sick leave in recent weeks, compounding problems created by the workforce shortages the sector is experiencing.

    “Unless we can address the shortfall of 8000 nurses we need on our wards, it is unlikely private hospitals will return to pre-COVID-19 activity any time soon.

    “Meanwhile, private health insurance companies have saved $2.7 billion since March 2020 due to the reduction in private hospital activity. At the same time, their income has increased as 256,768 more Australians took up private health hospital cover during the year.

    ‘In addition, insurance companies are starting to accrue the benefits of Prostheses List cuts that took effect in July, saving them $14 million in the first quarter alone. These savings will accumulate and grow as further price reductions come into effect.”

    Mr Roff welcomed the acknowledgement by the private health insurers lobby group that hospital costs like recruitment, power and food are rising and that they want to help hospitals meet those costs.

    “Unfortunately, the insurance lobby’s statements look like empty rhetoric as they do not reflect the behaviour of their members. Health insurance companies continue to play hardball on the ground, refusing to acknowledge hospital cost increases let alone do anything to help meet them. If health insurance companies want to have a product to sell in the future, they need to use their windfall gains from Covid to invest in the increased costs of providing high quality patient care.”