Seniors call for health cost shake-up

National Seniors Australia has renewed its appeal to the Federal Government to focus on inefficiencies in the health system, saying average out-of-pocket expenses had increased by three times the inflation rate over the past decade.

National Seniors’ Chief Advocate Ian Henschke today said revelations at the weekend in a News Corp report that the Australian Medical Association was recommending specialists charge up to three times more than the Medicare fee for hospital procedures showed why many older people were struggling to pay health costs.

“The industry data showed some specialists were stripping pensioners of their superannuation by charging $20,000 for out of pocket fees for Parkinson’s disease deep brain stimulation and $10,000 for hip and knee replacements,” Mr Henschke said.

“According to News Corp reports, some doctors are charging 10 times more than what even the AMA recommends, contributing to the $1.6 billion a year in gap payments not covered by patients’ health funds or Medicare.

“Medicare statistics show 86 per cent of anaesthetics and 53 per cent of operations cost more than the schedule fee.”

Mr Henschke said the high cost of specialist fees and the affordability of private health insurance were the two biggest health concerns for older Australians, according to National Seniors research conducted last year. The Federal Government must address the issue of affordability for older consumers, many of whom had paid contributions for decades.

Insurance premiums had increased by more than 40 per cent between 2010 and 2017, and would rise another 3.95 per cent from 1 April. In its 2018/19 Federal Budget submission, National Seniors Australia said a survey of members, many on low and limited incomes, revealed that 74 per cent could not afford an average four per cent jump in premiums, forcing them to cut or cancel their cover and back into the public health system.

“People who have worked hard all their lives cannot afford to pay health insurance premiums, or get the cover they need, when they most need it, for operations such as a hip or knee replacements,” Mr Henschke said.

“What we said last year still holds true: despite ever increasing premiums, when seniors come to make a claim for a service it’s either excluded or the out-of-pocket expenses have skyrocketed.

“The current system of government-approved premium setting lacks transparency and improving competition in the private health insurance sector is needed urgently.

“Older consumers are being forced to give up their health insurance because of rising costs, while private health funds made $1.4 billion in after-tax profit in 2017, an increase of 7.3 per cent over the previous year. These are taxpayer-subsidised businesses and we question the appropriateness of this level of profits.”

“Our message is clear. The system has huge problems and they need to be fixed.”

Ian Henschke is available for comment.

Media contact:  Lynda Schekoske 0488 047 380 or Rosemary Desmond (07) 3233 9106.

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