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Surgery stalled: 3.3 million uninsured Australians languish on wait lists

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Uninsured Australians are being forced to wait for years to receive surgery, according to new research by Finder.

A Finder survey of 1,062 respondents revealed 1 in 6 (16%) Australians – equivalent to 3.3 million people – have had to delay surgery because they didn't have private health cover.

Of those who had to hold off on getting surgical treatment, 1 in 3 (34%) waited a year or more for the operation.

Shockingly, 1 in 8 (12%) waited more than 3 years to go under the knife.

Tim Bennett, health insurance expert at Finder, said too many people were sitting in limbo for medically necessary treatment.

"Those who are overdue for surgery can experience worsening pain or financial problems.

"Their health could be deteriorating as a consequence of waiting months or years for surgery."

On April 1, the cost of health insurance will increase by an industry average of 3.03%. Some policies will see a price jump as big as 5.82%.

The cost of health insurance has gone up by 204% since 2000, according to Finder analysis. That's more than double the rate of inflation over the same period (86%).

This means a policy priced at $1,000 in the year 2000 would now cost $3,038 for the exact same coverage.

Finder's research found 1 in 4 (25%) uninsured Australians had to sit tight for 6-12 months for surgery, while 41% waited for up to six months.

Worryingly, 8% of uninsured Aussies had to delay surgical treatment for a staggering four or more years. That's almost 300,000 people across the country.

Bennett said some patients had opted to sign up to private health in the hope it was a faster route to treatment.

"Some people can't work due to their health conditions so it's a very financially stressful situation.

"Serving the waiting period on a new private health insurance policy can end up being shorter than the public wait list."

Bennett encouraged Australians to shop around for the best policy.

"Compare your options and see what deals are available that best suit your needs.

"If you have private cover, you can jump the queue, choose your own doctor and save yourself money down the road.

"Not having health insurance can lead to delays in treatment and may even hurt you at tax time, so it's a good idea to consider all implications of being uninsured," Bennett said.

Have you ever had to wait for a surgery because you didn't have private health cover?
Source: Finder survey of 1,062 respondents, March 2024
How long did you have to wait for the surgery?
Less than a month9%
1-3 months16%
3-6 months16%
6-9 months10%
9-12 months15%
1-2 years12%
2-3 years10%
3-4 years4%
4-5 years3%
Over 5 years5%
Source: Finder survey of 175 respondents who waited for surgery, March 2024


  • Finder's Consumer Sentiment Tracker is a monthly recurring nationally representative survey of more than 60,000 respondents.
  • Figures in this release are based on 1,062 respondents from March 2024.
  • The Consumer Sentiment Tracker is owned by Finder and operated by Qualtrics, an SAP company.
  • The survey has been running monthly since May 2019.

Check out Finder's top picks for health insurance policies in Australia.

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