Sector hits back at claims by Queensland health minister

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The private health sector has united in its criticism of Queensland health minister Steven Miles for suggesting the surge in patients being treated as private patients in the state's public hospitals is because they do not support its private hospitals.

Queensland has been at the forefront of 'harvesting' under which public hospitals actively encourage patients presenting in public hospital emergency departments to elect to be treated as private patients.

According to a Department of Health discussion paper, the percentage of public hospital separations funded by private health insurance increased nationally from 10.5 percent in 2010-11 to 14.1 percent in 2014.

The Queensland government introduced quotas in 2010 and annual growth in public hospital stays for private patients has subsequently spiked from 7 percent to 12 percent. The increase has been particularly significant in private emergency admissions.

Minister Miles was reported in The Australian attributing the increase to a need for revenue and that “the collapse in ­patient support for private hospitals is the real problem here”.

The comments were slammed by the Australian Private Hospitals Association, with CEO Michael Roff describing them in the same report as "laughable".

According to Private Healthcare Australia CEO, Dr Rachel David, patients are not, "...choosing a public hospital over a private hospital – they have simply presented to the closest hospital ED [emergency department] with an acute condition like chest pain or shortness of breath, with the expectation of being treated as a public patient as is their right under the Medicare system. 

"At some point subsequently they have been persuaded or coerced to hand over their health fund details and a private health insurance claim is made instead. Brochures distributed to patients and on display in public hospitals indicate this is a deliberate strategy by State Health Departments to raise revenue. 

"Many of these make misleading statements about ‘donating to’ or 'supporting your local public hospital’ - public hospitals are already funded through the tax system and do not need extra money from consumers to function."

The association is calling for increased transparency and accountability on the issue, including a ban on patients being approached to provide their private health insurance details during their stay in an emergency department.

It also says patients have a right to full financial consent, including on any gap payments, and that the treatment of a patient in a public hospital should not be prioritised based on their ability to pay.

"If the patient is admitted as a private patient, data about the admission including case mix codes should be provided to the health fund as part of the claim," it says, arguing it should be a mandatory requirement of the new commonwealth public hospital agreement with the states and territories.