Health round-up: Insurance, ending the Medicare rebate freeze and out-of-pocket surgery costs

Peter Terlato 18 May 2017 NEWS

Doctors

A weekly round-up of Australia's latest healthcare news.

More Aussies using private health insurance for hospital treatment

The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report reveals hospital admissions in Australia are steadily rising, together with the number of patients using private health insurance to fund their visits.

Over the last five years the number of people using private health cover to fund their hospital treatment increased at almost twice the rate (5.5% per year) of public system admissions (2.9% per year).

The report also found the annual rate of admissions to private hospitals (3.7% per year) over the last five years was tracking higher than that of public hospital admissions (3.3% per year).

The path to end Australia's Medicare rebate freeze

After four years, it looks as though the Medicare rebate freeze, introduced by the then-Labor government of 2013, will be lifted. However, it won't happen overnight.

When the freeze was brought in, the rebate for a standard GP consultation was $37, a fraction of the cost incurred by medical practitioners. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) claimed the freeze put these doctors in the tough position of either eating the extra costs themselves or passing them on to patients.

The decision to end the rebate freeze means some of the burden imposed upon medical practitioners will be removed and theoretically encourage more GPs to offer bulk-billing services.

This will not happen immediately, rather changes will be rolled out, in stages, over the next three years.

  • 1 July 2017: Introduction of bulk billing incentives for GP consultations.
  • 1 July 2018: Freeze removed for standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations.
  • 1 July 2019: Freeze removed for medical procedures.
  • 1 July 2020: Freeze removed for targeted diagnostic imaging services.

Are you being overcharged by your surgeon?

Australian's are plagued by a wide degree of variance in the costs and treatments of eight common medical procedures, according to a report by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Medibank.

For example, the Surgical Variance Report 2017 found colonoscopies cost between $1,153 and $6,308, leaving Aussies, on average, $272 out-of-pocket. One third (32%) of patients were discharged same day.

"From this data we can see there’s a lot of variability in the length of the hospital stay, which may be the result of factors beyond the patient’s characteristics," Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan said.


What else is happening?

From mid-2019, the Medicare levy will rise to 2.5%, funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Each week our round-up offers a summary of the latest developments impacting Australian healthcare and most importantly, you, the consumer. Check in every Thursday to find out what's happening in health.

Picture: Shutterstock

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