APHA: Cash grab to blame for waiting lists

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The Australian Private Hospitals Association says a 'cash grab' by public hospitals is to blame for a blow out in public elective surgery waiting lists.

According to CEO Michael Roff, “Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data released today confirms Australian public hospital waiting lists are blowing out. They have made a rod for their own backs when it comes to waiting list disasters.

"They are actively coercing privately insured patients to use their insurance in the public hospital system and then pushing them ahead in the elective surgery queue, leaving Australians who rely on the public system to wait even longer.

“This goes against the principles of Medicare, which was intended to ensure Australians get access to public hospital, based on clinical need and not their ability to pay.”

The data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows almost one million patients were added to public hospital elective surgery waiting lists (890,000) in 2018-19 - a 2.2 per cent increase on the previous year, while only 760,000 were admitted for their surgery in that period.

The data also show that half of all patients were admitted for elective surgery within 41 days of being added to the waiting list, an increase from 40 days the previous year and 35 days in 2014-15.  

Public patients wait twice as long overall for elective surgery – a median of 44 days for public patients and 22 for the privately insured.

Mr Roff said, “This issue was raised by the Auditor General in Victoria who found the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services incentivised public hospitals to coerce patients into private treatment. In March, the Queensland Government provided $3 million in emergency funding to buy services from private hospitals following a waiting list blow out.

“If public hospitals prioritised access for public patients that need their care instead of chasing money for bean counters, the public system would run the way it should.

“Public hospitals chasing private patient revenue has not only led to a waiting list blow out, it costs health funds $1.5 billion each year. Ending this practice would result in a six percent reduction in premiums and free up thousands of public hospital beds to treat public waiting list patients. The result would be significant benefits for public and private patients,” added Mr Roff.