Private patients in public hospitals a growing concern

The Federal Government continues to be concerned about the growing practice of private health insurance being charged by public hospitals for treatments that should be free.


Figures released this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show that state governments and hospitals are continuing to actively encourage patients to use their private health insurance to boost hospital revenue.


The number of privately insured patients in public hospitals grew by an annual average of 9.6 per cent between 2006-07 and 2015-16, compared with 4.9 per cent in private hospitals.


Private health insurance-funded hospitalisations in public hospitals were more likely to be for patients aged 75 and older, and patients aged 19 and under (30% and 12%, respectively), compared with 21% and 5% respectively in private hospitals.


The AIHW report showed that the vast majority (95%) of elective surgery admissions that were funded by private health insurance occurred in private hospitals, with the remaining 5% taking place in public hospitals.


This practice is driving up private health insurance premiums and is blowing out public hospital waiting lists


Private patients are being treated in public hospitals with shorter waiting times. On average, the wait time for public patients is more than double.


And for some surgeries, such as a cataract extractions, public patients wait more than six times longer than private patients.


Minister for Health Greg Hunt said, “This inequity in the system between public and private patients is unacceptable and state and territory health authorities must stop this practice at the expense of their public patients.


“All Australians are entitled to access public hospital services as a public patient, free of charge.


“I have raised this issue with my state and territory counterparts on numerous occasions, including at the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council meeting. All agreed to consider the issue of private patients in public hospitals further, but this new AIHW report shows this needs urgent action.”


Commonwealth funding for public hospitals will increase by 64 per cent between 2013-14 and 2020-21 from $13.8 billion to $22.7 billion. This is in addition to funding for PBS, MBS, primary care and the Private Health Insurance Rebate.


The Commonwealth and states have agreed to negotiate a new public hospital funding agreement by the end of 2018, to take effect from 2020 and the issue of states harvesting privately ensured patients in their hospitals will play a role in the negotiations.


8 December 2018.