Medical costs comparison website slammed

A medical costs comparison website established with the aim of allowing consumers to more accurately gauge specialists’ fees and out-of-pocket costs has been slammed.

Consumers Health Forum (CHF) chief executive Leanne Wells says the Medical Costs Finder website must be overhauled.

The $2.5 million comparison website has been accessed by fewer than 10,000 users since being launched six months ago.

Ms Wells told Nine media that prices charged by individual doctors need to be “visible and comparable”.

She said out-of-pocket health costs would “hurt families more than ever as a result of the economic impacts of the pandemic” and called on surgeons to “take into account the financial stress on individuals and families” when setting their fees.

“We urge the government to address out-of-pocket costs as a priority,” she said.

When the site launched on 30 December 2019, Ms Wells said it was “an inadequate response to the need for an open and comprehensive presentation of individual doctors’ fees and likely out-of-pocket costs”.

“There is an urgent need for the website to display more detailed information giving individual doctors’ fees. We urge doctors to participate by permitting their fees to be displayed on the website.

“The failure of the organised medical profession to take a more proactive approach on the publication of fees does doctors no credit.

“The government, through Medicare data, already has access to much of this information. The question now needs to be asked: do the interests of doctors in preserving their fee confidentiality outweigh the interests of patients in being able to ascertain and compare doctors’ fees?”

The ABC reported that the site went live without key features such as the ability for patients to search and compare specialist fees. The aim was to reduce “bill shock” and “crack down on doctors charging exorbitant fees”.

Health minister Greg Hunt has promised work on the website would continue.

But consumers have voted with their keyboards. The site had only 9861 unique visitors in the six months to June 17 – 3482 of them in the first two days it operated.

In June, only 304 Australians used the site.

“There is an increasing need for clear and transparent information about the cost of healthcare, particularly at the moment with incomes being down,” said Public Health Association of Australia spokesman Terry Slevin.

He told Nine that patients needed to be “fully informed, so they know what they’re getting themselves into”.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the website “is being delivered in stages and will continue to be upgraded with more information”.

“There is ongoing work with the medical sector to make costs more transparent, including by allowing individual doctors to disclose their fees on the website,” the spokesman said.

“While we are engaging with medical groups about the development of this function on the website, the timeframes are being balanced with the need to ensure Australia’s doctors can focus on managing the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The site currently relies on the goodwill of specialists. Gynaecologists, obstetricians, and oncologists publish their fees on a voluntary basis. They are not forced to publish fees for outpatient consults and their most common services.

When Medical Costs Finder launched, AMA president Tony Bartone said very few doctors overcharged and the best way to make an informed decision was to talk to your doctor.

Were you hoping the site would allow for a transparent comparison of doctors’ fees? Have you accessed the site?

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Written by Will Brodie

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