States are chasing patients around emergency departments until they sign over their private health insurance, according to health minister Greg Hunt.
Speaking on radio after last week's release of data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which revealed a significant jump in the number of public hospital separations funded by private insurers, Mr Hunt said the consequences were higher premiums and longer public hospital waiting lists.
The report, which came on top of a Department of Health discussion paper that revealed a similar situation, showed private health insurance-funded hospitalisations 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.
Queensland, Victoria and South Australia appear to be at the centre of the shift to 'harvest' privately insured patients as a revenue raising mechanism.
"I think this process at the moment of what I call ‘harvesting’, where some state governments...will literally chase patients around the emergency department until they sign over their private hospital and private health insurance rights. That’s not appropriate," said Mr Hunt.
A document obtained by HealthDispatch shows a senior public hospital administrator in South Australian explaining how hospital admission procedures should be varied to encourage patients admitted through emergency departments to elect to use their private health insurance.
It describes admitting patients as 'private for accommodation only', under which they have no choice of doctor, are treated as a public patient, and the only purpose - stated - of electing to use their private health insurance is to raise money for the hospital.
According to the minister, following on from other recently announced reforms, "...we will now pursue, through the next hospitals agreement with the states, greater controls over this practice of harvesting private patients in public hospitals, of literally just chasing them around the emergency department and trying to put the pressure on them, when that’s not an appropriate thing to do."