A national study by the Consumers Health Forum has revealed the shocking amount Australians are being forced to pay out of their own money for cancer treatment and other chronic illnesses.
The Out of Pocket Pain survey found that patients were paying more than $10,000 in medical costs out of their own money, even though they thought they were covered by health insurance. While health insurance covered some medical bills, the 1,200 patients who took part in the survey found they were spending thousands on life-saving surgery, treatments, as well as diagnostic scans.
The CEO of the Consumers Health Forum Leanne Wells described the out-of-pocket health costs people were being forced to pay as “disturbing.”
“The responses to the survey give a disturbing insight into the high costs of medical care and challenge the notion that everyone can access the care they need in Australia,” she said in a statement.
Wells added that many pensioners were actually refusing treatment because they simply couldn’t afford it.
“We have heard from pensioners and single mothers who have foregone recommended care because of cost, from many people exasperated to find that the insurance they have held for many years will not cover gaps of thousands of dollars, from patients who learn belatedly of unexpected extra costs for junior surgeons, anaesthetists and MRI scans, and from people who have had to call for special access to their superannuation funds to cover the bills,” she said.
“Our results affirm what we know from the OECD, ABS and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Australian consumers face higher than average out of pocket costs and this translates into people often avoiding visiting a GP, failing to fill scripts and not acting on a specialist referral due to cost. This shouldn’t be happening in a country with the wealth of Australia.”
Wells added that the expense is made even more difficult for patients because of the uncertainty and complexity of the relationship between treatment and costs with different levels of cover, or no cover, provided by Medicare and health funds.
The survey found that more than 25 per cent of respondents treated for breast cancer incurred out-of-pocket costs of more than $10,000, while more than a third of patients with chronic illnesses experienced the same levels of costs. This was particularly damaging to one in six patients, who said that these expenses impacted their lives in a negative way. A third of respondents also added that they weren’t told about the costs before they underwent surgery or treatment.
In a statement, Breast Cancer Network Australia CEO Kirsten Pilatti said people should always get second opinions when seeking treatment for an array of health issues.
“BCNA has been outraged by a number of our members reporting extreme variations in out of pocket costs,” she said. “Only full disclosure will ensure consumers can make the right choice for themselves.
“You ask for a second quote when looking for a tradesman so why would you not do the same for your health? We are encouraging people to ask for full costs upfront and get a second opinion before committing to any treatment that may impact the way they lead their lives.”
The CFC has recommended that all fees be published and explained in full for patients and noted that both sides of politics have acknowledged that Australia’s private health arrangements are an issue of major concern to the community and a complex matter that must be addressed through reform.