Health ministers to resolve 'outstanding issues' on private patients

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Australia's health ministers have endorsed an agreement that will work towards resolving "outstanding issues" regarding the treatment of private patients in public hospitals.

Federal, states and territory health ministers gathered in Melbourne on Friday for the COAG Health Council meeting.

According to the communiqué, "All parties undertook to resolve outstanding issues regarding high-cost highly-specialised therapies and private patients in public hospitals as a priority."

Private hospitals and insurers have consistently called for action on public hospitals 'harvesting' the privately insured.

Health minister Greg Hunt announced as far back as 2017 that he intended to act on the practice through the National Health Reform Agreement that is close to being finalised.

Under the new Agreement, federal government funding for public hospitals will rise by $20 billion over the next five years.

The number of public hospital separations funded by private insurers has increased significantly. Some states set targets for their public hospitals and even appoint staff to engage and convince admitted patients to elect to be treated privately.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, private health insurance-funded hospitalisations in public hospitals increased from 8.2 per cent of all hospitalisations in 2006–07 to 13.9 per cent in 2015–16 - an average annual increase of 9.6 per cent.

At the same time, private health insurance-funded hospitalisations in private hospitals increased at an average annual rate of just 4.9 per cent.

A 2018 discussion paper from the Commonwealth Department of Health found that, if the number of private patients in the public sector had grown at the same rate as private patients in private hospitals since 2010-11, premiums in 2015-16 would have been about 2.5 per cent lower.