States have become 'too tricky and clever'

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States and territories have become "too tricky and clever" in pressuring people to be treated as private patients in public hospitals, according to AMA national president Dr Michael Gannon.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, Dr Gannon said it is important privately insured patients continue to be able to be treated in public hospitals. He said it was particularly for people living in regional communities, which may not be serviced by a private hospital, or where a specialist may only work in the public system.

A recent discussion paper from the Department of Health revealed the extent to which state governments use public hospitals to generate funds from privately insured patients.

The percentage of public hospital separations funded by private health insurance increased nationally from 10.5 per cent in 2010-11 to 14.1 per cent in 2014-15.

The discussion paper 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.

"We must maintain flexibility," said Dr Gannon, adding privately insured patients should not be excluded from public hospitals.

"One of the problems is under-investment in public hospitals," he said. "...maybe states have been too tricky and clever in trying to get hold of private patients." Dr Gannon said they should "pullback" on some of these "habits".

He restated the AMA's view the issue is being exacerbated by private health insurance policies with exclusions.

He argued the public hospital system would not survive without private insurers but criticised the sector, arguing "...Market power has dramatically shifted in favour of the private health insurers." Dr Gannon did not articulate any specific proposed reforms but did commit to ongoing participation in the Ministerial Advisory Committee.

Dr Gannon also argued against greater transparency in specialist fees on the basis most services are already provided a no or known-gap and could have unintended consequences. He said transparency could also result in specialists deciding not to treat higher risk patients.