Spiralling out-of-pocket health costs biggest worry for seniors


National Seniors Australia is calling for reforms to put a brake on rising health care costs and help older Australians maintain their private health insurance.

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Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said health costs had increased by 56.7% in the past 10 years, whereas overall inflation had increased 23.5%. Unless the underlying cause of these cost increases was addressed, consumers would continue to face rising health insurance premiums, which had skyrocketed 66% in the same period.

The federal government had approved an average rise of 3.25% in private health fund premiums from 1 April this year.

Mr Henschke said a survey of National Seniors members had established they worried most 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.

“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.”

Mr Henschke said 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.

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.” 

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