Patient need must be first priority in public hospitals

The Consumers Health Forum supports the call for the enforcement of Medicare principles to ensure private patients in public hospitals do not receive preferential treatment ahead of public patients.

“We back the recommendation in a new report by Catholic Health Australia, that the only driver for prioritising treatment in public hospitals should be the patient’s clinical need,” the spokesman for CHF, Mark Metherell, said.

“The detailed report, Upsetting the Balance, released by CHA today offers valuable insights following the recent disclosure that public patients wait more than twice as long as private patients for treatment in public hospitals.

“The report shows strong growth in public hospital admissions of private patients in recent years at a time of stagnant growth in private hospitals.  It points to a range of “inducements” offered to privately insured patients to use their insurance when admitted to a public hospital, and says some patients are being told they will be treated more quickly if they opt to be private.

“The report has no definitive explanation as to why or how private patients come to get treated more quickly than public patients in public hospitals.  It does include an estimate that Visiting Medical Officers (non-salaried specialists) would typically receive a minimum of 25 per cent more pay for operating on a private patient than what they would earn from public hospital hourly rates.

“The report states there are regular audits and oversight by health departments in NSW and Victoria to ensure compliance with policies that require patients on elective surgery waiting lists to be prioritised according to clinical need.

“The findings of this report once again underline the need for more transparency into the workings of subsidised health care in the public and private sector.  Incentives such as the health insurance rebate were introduced nearly two decades ago to encourage more people to take out health insurance and thus reduce strains on public hospitals.

“Now many more people have health insurance but because of the high rises in premiums driven by swelling costs of private care, and rising out of pocket expenses common in private hospitals, consumers who have insurance are  taking the public option.

“This phenomenon is eroding universal access to first class health care promised by Medicare when the majority of Australians who do not have insurance may get second class access in public hospitals.

“Hopefully the current Senate Inquiry into private health insurance will shed some light on this issue and  provide some  ideas on how to restore the balance between private and public care,” Mr Metherell said.  

The report by CHA can be viewed on their website here: http://cha.org.au/images/CAT2006_Report_v4_FA_Low_Res_Digital.pdf

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Media contact

Mark Metherell

Em.metherell@chf.org.au
T:  02 6273 5444 
M: 0429 111 986