A Four Corners exposé on patients who reported thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket medical costs has brought swift responses from key medical bodies with calls for a royal commission, greater transparency of fees and a limit on doctors’ current freedom to set whatever prices they want.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) tweeted on Monday: “No Australian should need a GoFundMe page to afford their medical care. It may only be a small number of doctors charging egregious fees, but it needs to stop.”
Anaesthetist Associate Professor Ross Kerridge said doctors who charged “exorbitant fees” needed to be denounced. “They are emotionally blackmailed,” he said. “It’s outrageous.”
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) president John Batten said the majority of Australian surgeons aimed to deliver affordable quality care, but that a small number of “rogue operators” were charging excessive fees in breach of the RACS Code of Conduct.
“No one in a health system such as ours should have to contact a financial planner, re-mortgage their home, touch their superannuation or seek crowd funding to access surgical treatment,” he said. “Urgent, acute or cancer-related surgery can be timely and adequately dealt with in the public system and all surgeons have a duty to advise their patients of this.”
Is there a solution?
Mr Batten offered the following advice to anyone needing surgery:
- take the time to understand the procedure you need and ask questions about care and fees before agreeing to the surgery
- understand all available treatment options and seek a second opinion if you are concerned
- ask for an estimated total cost of your procedure before you agree to the surgery and, if desired, get a second opinion or raise any concerns with your referring practitioner
- if you have private health insurance, confirm what you are covered for and ask if there will be any out-of-pocket costs
- before you go into hospital as a private patient, ask your surgeon about the fees to be charged by all the health professionals who might be involved in your care, including anaesthesia, pathology services, medical imaging, physiotherapists and so on
- if you have any complaints or concerns about a surgeon, you can raise these directly with the surgeon or with the hospital or you can contact the relevant authority – the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority
- patients who consider their fees unreasonable should contact the RACS Professional Standards Department on [email protected].
Have you fallen foul of healthcare costs? Did private insurance save you or were you still out of pocket? Would you like to see a public register of surgeons’ costs?