Public patients are being bumped down the elective surgery queue in public hospitals in favour of those using private health insurance to foot the bill. New official figures have revealed for the first time how elective surgery wait times in public hospitals vary depending on who is paying for the procedure.
While the median waiting time is 38 days to have elective surgery in a public hospital, that jumps up to 42 days for public patients.
But waiting times more than halve to 20 days for patients having elective surgery in a public hospital but using private health insurance to pay for some or all of it.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare hospital statistics report on Wednesday 17 May 2017 shows patients are increasingly billing private health insurers for treatment in public hospitals.
The number of private patients billing their insurer for treatment in public hospitals increased by an average of 10.5 per cent each year from 2011-12 to 2014-15.
“In public hospitals in 2015-16, 83 per cent of admissions were for public patients, with around 14 per cent of patients using their private health insurance to fund all or part of their admission,” Institute spokesperson George Bodilsen said.
It’s a trend private health insurers have long complained is driving up premiums for consumers.
Private Healthcare Australia president Rachel David says public hospitals are being incentivised by state governments to chase revenue from private patients.
She says patients being admitted to emergency departments have reported being pressured by public hospitals to declare themselves private patients, facing unnecessary and exorbitant out of pocket costs.
David says the figures suggest that when it comes to elective surgery, patients are being told by public hospitals they’ll receive treatment faster if they use private insurance.
The end result is duplication within the health system, meaning higher premiums and increased taxes.
“A key principle of private insurance is we’re taking pressure off public hospitals and if private patients are taking up beds that public patients need, that will become an issue,” David said. “What this really reflects is that public hospitals are now competing actively with private hospitals for the private patient dollar.
“If that means sicker people without private health insurance miss out then that’s a problem.”