SPIRALLING out-of-pocket health care costs are a major concern for older Australians.
The situation has prompted leading advocacy group National Seniors Australia to create a campaign calling for reforms to put a brake on rising health care costs and help older Australians maintain their private health insurance.
The federal government has approved an average rise of 3.25% in private health fund premiums from April 1.
National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said health costs had increased by 56.7 per cent in the past 10 years, whereas overall inflation had increased 23.5 per cent.
According to a survey of 6000 National Seniors members, respondents were most worried about the amount of money they were forced to pay out of their own pockets for services and procedures not reimbursed by Medicare or private health insurance.
They wanted reduced out-of-pocket specialists’ fees, cheaper private health insurance premiums, increased funding for public hospitals, and more services covered by Medicare.
“Gap costs are a major contributor to rising out-of-pocket expenses,” Mr Henschke said. “People on low and fixed incomes are particularly hard hit and are forced to put off medical treatment or cut their private health cover.”
Out-of-pocket costs continued to grow as doctors’ fees rose faster than the Medicare rebate. A growing list of treatment exclusions was also contributing to the declining affordability of health care, said Mr Henschke.
This situation was made worse by a lack of transparency in the health sector. Insurance policies could be confusing and difficult to compare, and comparing medical specialist fees and services was almost impossible.
Fees for in-hospital care and procedures, plus overcharging by some specialists, further increased out-of-pocket costs.
“Patients’ bills often include costs for multiple doctors, including surgeons, anaesthetists, pathologists and radiologists,” Mr Henschke said.
“The total cost of in-hospital treatments may not become clear until months after a hospital stay and may run to thousands of dollars. This causes unbearable stress for older people, especially those on low and fixed incomes.
“We’re urging all older Australians to join our campaign to cut health costs and tell doctors, insurers and the government what you want.”
The campaign calls for:
- A requirement for medical specialists to publish fees on a public register and a requirement for GPs to inform patients about choice when referring to a medical specialist
- A freeze on private health insurance premiums to no more than the Consumer Price Index
To join the campaign: nationalseniors.com.au (search for health costs) 07-3233-9191