The Australian Private Hospitals Association has expressed concern over a jump in private patients being treated in public hospitals during the first three months of 2018.
Quarterly statistics issued by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority confirmed a 3.9 percent rise in private patients being treated in public hospitals. This compared to a 6.4 percent drop in private hospital episodes. Total hospital episodes fell 4.7 percent.
Overall, for the 12 months to the end of March 2018, private hospital episodes rose 2 percent and privately insured episodes in public hospitals rose 0.9 percent.
According to APHA CEO Michael Roff, the statistics mean more than 800,000 public hospital episodes of care were funded through private health insurance in the past year, resulting in health insurers paying out $1.1 billion to public hospitals and forcing up premiums.
Several state and territories have instituted formal processes in their public hospitals to encourage patients to nominate to be treated as privately insured, including quotas.
A Department of Health discussion paper released last year 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 percent lower.
Mr Roff described the APRA update as "devastating news" for anyone on a public hospital waiting list.
“It means more people without the ability to pay for private health care will be left waiting for their surgery. We know that public hospitals let private patients jump the queue, with public patients waiting twice as long for treatment compared to insured patients. So the more private patients they treat, the longer public patients have to wait," he said.
“The public health system was designed to provide health care to all Australians regardless of their capacity to pay. Now we see more and more public hospitals revenue raising through privately insured patients rather than delivering on their core objective under Medicare.
“Unfortunately the public hospitals are making a rod for their own backs – and penalising their patients – by continuing to choose private health insurance revenue over patients’ clinical care needs,” added Mr Roff.