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Private, public patients cost the same for Canberra

BY Danny Rose, Medical Writer
Tue Dec 1 01:06:23 EST 2009
Mon Nov 30 14:06:23 UTC 2009
FED: Private, public patients cost the same for Canberra Eds: Embargoed to 0100 AEDT, Tuesday, December 1.

SYDNEY, Dec 1 AAP - A private hospital patient costs the federal government almost exactly the same as a non-insured patient treated in a public hospital.

The difference was just $3, according to research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which calculated costs flowing to the federal government from private versus public patients.

"The Australian government faces the same funding pressures whether it is private sector or public patient ... that is the key result," said AIHW principal economist John Goss.

"For patients using their private insurance in private hospitals, the Australian government's average contribution was $1,364."

The same figure for a public hospital patient, in the same 2005-06 period, was $1,367 per episode of care.

While private hospitals are not primarily funded by government, they do become a vehicle for tax expenditure through Medical Benefits Schedule payments to doctors and patients' private health insurance subsidies and rebates for out-of-pocket expenses.

Federal taxes fund the subsidisation of private health insurance premiums in Australia by 30 to 40 per cent, depending on the age of the health insurance fund member.

Mr Goss said it was important to note the study took in health costs faced by the federal government only, and not state governments which are responsible for running the nation's public hospitals.

The research also did not take in GST revenues collected by the federal government and distributed to the states - a large chunk of which is used for running these hospitals.

"The burden on the Australian government taxpayer for public patients and ... for private patients is similar," Mr Goss said.

"(But) the state governments have a lot of funding towards public patients and only a little bit towards private patients, so it's a different story."

The report also showed that public hospitals tended to handle greater numbers of more complex medical cases, while private hospitals offered a greater range of complementary and other services in competition with public hospitals.