Government backs greater transparency on out-of-pocket costs

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Health minister Greg Hunt says the government will fund the development of a national searchable website to provide the public with greater access to information about the costs of specialist services.

The website is a recommendation of the ministerial advisory committee on out-of-pocket costs comprised of stakeholders and chaired by the Commonwealth chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy.

"Specialists will initially be expected to show their fees as agreed with the medical profession on the website to enable patients and GPs to consider costs when determining their choice of specialists," said Mr Hunt.

"In many cases, patients may feel committed to a particular specialist after the first consultations. I am confident this website will improve transparency and choice for patients and families," he said. "It will reduce the burden of ‘bill shock’ and allow patients to make informed choices."

The committee said the website could take up to two years to create.

Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Rachel David described the website as a "welcome step" but that "further urgent action must be taken against medical specialists who charge egregious fees or fail to inform consumers of likely costs in advance."

According to Medibank CEO Craig Drummond, “If treatment costs and quality data is more readily and universally available Australians will be able to make more informed choices about their healthcare. And this is a good thing.

“On behalf of our customers, we welcome further reform which will ensure Australia maintains its world-class healthcare system.”

AMA national president Dr Tony Bartone said the website "will do nothing to inform patients about their likely out-of-pocket costs unless it also lists what patients can expect back from Medicare and their private health insurance fund."

“The AMA is actively involved in making sure that people have informed financial consent about the costs of their treatment, and that includes knowing what health funds are prepared to pay their customers for particular treatments,” said Dr Tony Bartone.

“The AMA supports and actively encourages full transparency of doctors’ fees, and unreservedly condemns egregious billing, which occurs in a very small percentage of cases.

“But that transparency must extend to both the size of the MBS rebate and the private health insurance contribution to the cost of treatment," he added.