What Australia’s Health Panel said self financed private healthcare- March 2022

As the costs of living in modern Australia continue to rise and wages stagnate, consumers’ financial decisions in all areas of their lives are being put under increasing pressure. This is particularly true for health and healthcare, where for many years costs have increased at a rate greater than the general ‘cost of living’.

A recent trend is the use of “self-financing” in the private healthcare system, where consumers without private health insurance elect to get treatment in private health facilities and pay for the entire cost themselves. Often with the use of “Buy Now, Pay Later” providers such as After Pay or Zip Pay which have emerged in recent years.

For the March 2022 Australia’s Health Panel survey we asked the Panel about this recent trend and if they’d had any experiences with it.

And we found that 1 in 4 people have experiences with self-financing healthcare treatment in the private health system. This number likely to be an underestimation given the disproportionate proportion of survey participants who had Private Health Insurance.

When considering whether they will self-finance a private procedure, consumers reported they typically balancing an urgent need to get a procedure done against the high costs of receiving treatment in the private system without health insurance. This aligned with the finding that the types of procedures being self-financed were general major surgical interventions that required the consumer to remain in hospital overnight afterwards.

The vast majority of self-financing through consumers savings, or the savings of their family. A minority of people reported using a payment plan with the facilities and zero participants report using an external Buy Now Pay Later, which was the reported phenomena prompting this research project. Consumers are mistrustful of Buy Now Pay Later schemes, but a sizeable minority did report they would consider using one if desperate enough. More broadly, not all Australians are able to reliably draw upon pre-existing savings to quickly access the essential procedures that require self-financing, highlighting an ongoing health affordability crisis in Australia.

The results of this research will inform our advocacy and partnerships on health systems affordability.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for giving up their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.