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10 most expensive surgeries in Australia

Transplants, spinal fusions and hip replacements are some of the most expensive surgeries in Australia. That said, the amount you'll pay out-of-pocket can vary wildly.

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Surgeries can be roughly separated into 3 different categories:

  • Urgent or emergency surgeries
  • Elective and semi-elective surgeries
  • Cosmetic elective surgeries

In this article, we're only considering medically necessary elective or semi-elective surgeries. We only look at average prices calculated by several insurers in Australia: The overall cost of surgery can be far higher or lower, depending on how much a particular surgeon charges.

Australia's 10 most expensive surgeries

Number 1

Transplants: $40,000-$150,000

No matter what organ you're considering, transplants are easily the most expensive surgery you can have. The amount of work involved transferring an organ from one body to another is immense, running close to $150,000 for a heart or liver. Even a single kidney will cost around $40,000 to install.

Surgery waiting list*: N/A

Number 2

Coronary artery bypass graft: $44,000

This highly invasive surgery is used to improve blood flow to the heart. It involves grafting a healthy vein or artery to an existing blocked one, thus bypassing the blockage inside the vein or artery.

Surgery waiting list: 18 days

Number 3

Spinal fusion: $42,000

Spinal fusion involves surgically joining together 2 or more bones in your spine, usually to treat chronic lower back pain caused by degenerated discs.

Surgery waiting list: N/A

Number 4

Hip replacement: $25,000

A common procedure for older individuals, hip replacement involves removing an existing hip, usually due to arthritis or similar, and replacing it with an artificial hip instead. It's intended to relieve pain and aid easy movement.

Surgery waiting list: 120 days

Number 5

Colorectal surgery: $25,000

This involves the removal of part or all of your colon or rectum. This can be prompted by disease or damage to your colon or rectum from something like cancer or Crohn's disease.

Surgery waiting list: N/A

Number 6

Knee replacement: $23,000

Much like a hip replacement, knee replacement involves removing the knee joint and replacing it with an artificial one. It's intended to relieve pain and increase mobility, especially for people with conditions like arthritis.

Surgery waiting list: 223 days

Number 7

Gallbladder surgery: $17,000

The gallbladder is a non-vital organ located in your abdomen. It can sometimes grow painful gallstones or develop other problems, necessitating its removal – usually through a small keyhole incision in your torso.

Surgery waiting list: N/A

Number 8

Pacemaker insertion: $16,000

The heart works by pumping blood through your body, timing its contractions so that oxygenated blood is pumped to your muscles and tissues and deoxygenated blood flows to your lungs. A pacemaker uses electrical impulses to regulate your heart's rhythm and make sure it's functioning properly with its contractions.

Surgery waiting list: N/A

Number 9

Angioplasty and stent insertion: $16,000

Angioplasty and stent insertions serve a similar purpose: They increase blood flow through your veins and arteries. In angioplasty, a small balloon is inserted and inflated to open up blood vessels. A stent is a small tube that is inserted in the vein or artery to ensure that it stays open.

Surgery waiting list: N/A

Number 10

Prostatectomy: $16,000

Prostatectomy is the removal of the prostate. Whether necessitated by prostatitis or prostate cancer, this procedure seeks to negate a prostate condition by removing the organ from the body.

Surgery waiting list: 44 days

*All figures are for the longest median waiting times, for elective surgeries, in public hospitals for 2019-20 – the most recently available figures.

How surgery costs work under Medicare

Medicare pays for certain treatments at a public hospital, including surgeries. Medically necessary elective, semi-elective and urgent/emergency surgeries you receive as a public patient in a public hospital are completely covered by the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS).

Medicare will fully cover:

  • Operating theatre fees in public hospitals
  • Medically-necessary surgeries (for example, removing a tumor)
  • Necessary surgical consultations

However, if you are admitted as a private patient to a public hospital, Medicare will only partially cover your treatment. The rest must be paid by you or your private health insurance provider.

How does private health insurance pay for surgery?

Private health insurance, combined with Medicare, can pay up to 100% of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for the medical costs of your surgery in a hospital. But as a private patient, specialists can charge added fees and Medicare will only provide for between 75% and 85% of those extra costs.

Some insurers have a "medical gap scheme" that will help you to meet any additional costs. Private health insurance will typically cover some or all of this gap, depending on the procedure.

The cost of a particular surgery and what you actually end up paying out of pocket varies considerably depending on the circumstances.

The benefits of private health insurance

Despite the cost of premiums and potential out-of-pocket costs, there are a few advantages to getting surgery in the private system. These benefits include:

  • The choice of your own surgeon
  • Avoiding lengthy public surgery waiting lists
  • Flexibility on when you're admitted to the hospital
  • Access to a private room

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