APHA: New agreement could mean end of 'harvesting'

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The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) has welcomed confirmation the new five-year public hospital funding agreement includes a commitment public hospitals will end the practice of 'harvesting' private patients.

Prime minister Scott Morrison announced the $131 billion five-year agreement following Friday's National Cabinet meeting.

The prime minister also announced the "cessation" of the COAG decision-making model to be permanently replaced by the National Cabinet that was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The new National Federation Reform Council agreed to by Premiers, Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister, will change the way the Commonwealth and states and territories effectively and productively work together to address new areas of reform," he said, adding the National Cabinet will continue to meet every two weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic. "In the future, these meetings will take place once a month," said Mr Morrison.

The prime minister's statement abolishing the "COAG model" contained minimal information. He simply said, "Important task forces will continue, that previously worked to COAG in important national agenda issues," adding other "forums will be consolidated and reset."

"Ministers will consider the value of each of those and I suspect we'll see many of them no longer be required," he said.

The APHA said the new National Health Reform Agreement, signed by all states and territories, includes a commitment to remove any financial benefit accruing to public hospitals for treating private patients.

"This means there will be no incentive for public hospitals to actively pursue privately insured Australians as they currently do," it said.

APHA CEO Michael Roff said the agreement was significant and that health minister Greg Hunt should be congratulated.

“Mr Hunt has worked collaboratively with state and territory colleagues as well as stakeholders to achieve this Agreement," said Mr Roff.

"It will have a genuine impact on how Australians can access care, including making the public system more available to those who need it.

“APHA has been advocating for this change for a long time. We know the practice has driven up premiums and disadvantages public patients who are pushed further down public hospital waiting lists. It undermines the principle of Medicare – that treatment in a public hospital should be on the basis of clinical need, not ability to pay.

“It’s not right that almost 14 percent of public hospital beds are tied up with private patients when waiting lists continue to grow, and it’s not right that public patients wait twice as long to get into a public hospital compared to insured patients. Hopefully, those days are over.

“Our hope is that patients in public hospital Emergency Departments are no longer coerced or harassed into handing over their private health insurance details when they are vulnerable and in need of urgent treatment. It should also reduce costs for public hospitals who will no longer need to employ so called ‘private patient liaison officers’ to undertake this coercion.

“This agreement should mean improved access to care for those Australians who can’t afford private health insurance and can only access the public hospital system, because privately insured people will not be pushed ahead of them in elective surgery queues as is currently the case,” said Mr Roff.

“Public hospitals must now concentrate on what people expect them to do, treat public patients. This has never been more important to ensure that public patients are not left languishing on waiting lists that have grown even longer due to the surgery restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will be closely monitoring the situation following the implementation of the new agreement after 1 July to ensure that public hospitals are not offering preferential access to insured patients,” added Mr Roff.