Private Patients in Public Hospitals

Private Patients in Public Hospitals

Australians have always taken for granted that when they need medical treatment, their Medicare card (and the taxes that they have paid) entitles them to prompt quality health care.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that private health insurance companies have been increasing their premiums by 7% to 12% a year, uninsured Australian’s have been forced to wait longer than ever before for most medical procedures.

A new report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (December 2017) found that public patients have been forced to wait twice as long for elective surgery compared to private patients .  The main reason behind this unacceptable reality is related to the fact that a large number of Private patients have been using public hospitals.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare also found that between 2006 and 2016 the number of Private patients treated in Public hospitals increased by almost 10% a year. At the same time, insured patients treated in private hospitals only increased by 5%.

Regrettably, due to frequent cuts to healthcare funding, public hospitals are actively competing for Private patients because they are able to obtain financial benefits from private patient’s health insurers.  They offer Private patients prompt treatment, private rooms, daily flowers and newspapers and free telephone, internet and Wi-Fi usage during their hospital stay.

In fact, the Australian Government has released a paper titled “Options to reduce pressure on private health insurance premiums by addressing the growth of private patients in public hospitals” for public consultation. It appears that the government is looking to increase the number of private patients using public hospitals with the hope that this measure may encourage Private health insurance companies reduce their yearly increase of health insurance premiums.

Successive Federal governments have supported the private health sector financially via the private health insurance rebate and other direct financial contributions. In 2014-15 the Australian Government spent $5.8 billion on the Private Health Insurance Rebate. 

The government justifies financially supporting private health insurance companies with the claim that this would help reduce the pressure on Australia’s public hospital. That is, people with private health insurance would be treated in private hospitals.

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that over the past decade, the reverse has occurred, with an increasing proportion of insured patients being treated in public hospitals. Most private hospitals have set up their services so that they offer a limited set of services that are likely to deliver them higher profits. This means that the more complex and difficult patients have been treated by our Public hospitals.

The growing practise of insured patients and their doctors using public hospitals has been promoted by state and territory governments. This behaviour needs to stop because it is undermining Australia’s principle of universal health care based on Medicare and is unfair for the majority of Australians that are not insured.

We urge state and federal governments to look at the statistics and hear the stories of uninsured patients and to stop this practise. If change does not occur quickly, we fear that Australia’s health system will become two-tiered. That is, one system, for the rich and another for the poor and working class!

Kamal Bekhazi

Senior Research Officer

Health Workers Union