Don’t mess with doctor and patient choice for private patients in public hospitals, health chief says

Monday, October 17, 2016

‘The right of privately-insured hospital patients to choose their own doctor, whether in a private or public hospital, is fundamental to Australia’s health care system and should not be tampered with’, Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, said today.

Ms Verhoeven was responding to claims that the Turnbull government’s new Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee has unexpectedly made public hospital billing of private patients a ‘priority issue for reform’.

‘Currently about $1 billion of the $14 billion or so paid out by health insurers every year is to public hospitals for treating privately-insured patients as private patients within public hospitals’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘What the private insurers and private health industry want is that they not be billed for those services, and that governments pick up the tab. But to do that you would have to remove the patient’s right to choose their doctor in a public hospital as well as the right to choose where they are treated.

‘It’s crystal clear in the Australian Government’s own Private Patients Hospital Charter that as a private patient you have the right to choose your own doctor and to decide whether you will go to a public or private hospital that your doctor attends. You also have the right to choose to be treated as a public patient in a public hospital, at no charge, by a doctor appointed by the hospital.

‘For people in rural and regional areas of Australia it can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, for patients to access private hospitals. The only way to have a doctor of your own choice is to use private health insurance in a public hospital.

‘Likewise for many patients with serious medical conditions requiring services that may not be available in private hospitals, their right to choice of a doctor is exercised in a public hospital using their private insurance. 

‘Doctors also choose to work in both the public and private sector, and any move to limit this will have serious workforce implications, particularly in regional areas. It could potentially also have a huge impact on continuity of care for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer, who have been treated by private specialists for years.

‘The Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee has no public sector representation in its membership, yet they want to have a major say in how public hospitals are run and funded, to their advantage. They are not willing to put some of their funds towards services provided by public hospitals, but are quite happy that the majority of their doctors and nurses were trained in the public system at no cost to them, to say nothing of the $6 billion a year the government spends subsidising private health insurance.

Media enquiries:

Alison Verhoeven

Chief Executive

0403 282 501