4 Corners sounds warning bell on health costs: is government listening?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

‘Last night’s 4 Corners program on out-of-pocket health costs is a warning bell that our political leaders should heed,’ Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said today.

‘People’s first-hand accounts of the significant costs incurred in managing their health cannot be ignored, nor brushed over with statements about high bulk-billing rates, a few rogue specialists, and planned insurance reforms which will do little, if anything, to address the problem.

‘While the Australian Government is undertaking a review of out-of-pocket costs, it must give a clear assurance to all Australians that it prioritises investment in the public health sector so that quality health care is available to all Australians,’ says Ms Verhoeven.

‘As a starting point, the Government could task the MBS Review Taskforce with investigating options for bundled payments for high-need patients, such as those requiring treatment for cancer. This would assist in addressing variation in doctors’ fees, as well as the unanticipated and sometimes unaffordable bills that land in the patient’s lap throughout their care journey.

‘For example, although many specialists do provide details of the fees they will charge for their services, a person may be required to see several different health service providers for their condition. Many tests and treatments are performed outside a hospital and may not be claimable on health insurance.

‘With each provider charging for their services and no clear idea on the claimability or benefits payable on the various items, either from private health insurance or Medicare, the overall amount of money the patient is required to spend can add to something significantly more than first anticipated.

‘While commentators on the 4 Corners program urged patients to ‘shop around’ and negotiate on fees, it can be very difficult for people to negotiate fees with their doctors, particularly when they are very unwell and with the limited information currently available about what might be a reasonable fee.

‘The fact that some patients are dipping into superannuation or having to set up GoFundMe accounts to pay five-figure medical bills shows how some out-of-pocket costs are getting out of hand.

‘It also shows that the Australian Government would benefit from including more consumer and patient organisations on its review committees if they want to know first-hand the impacts the current system is having on ordinary Australians.

‘The current out-of-pocket costs review committee is totally dominated by doctor organisations, private health providers and private health insurers—the very people who benefit most from leaving the system as it currently is.

‘As the private system and its out-of-pocket costs and confusion continue to run away from us, we reiterate our call for a Productivity Commission review of the health system, including an appropriate and affordable balance between private and public healthcare that is patient-centred rather than provider-centred,’ says Ms Verhoeven.


For more information on the AHHA’s Blueprint for Health Funding Reform, visit http://ahha.asn.au/Blueprint.

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:  Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

0403 282 501