Public patients waiting four times longer for surgery

The rules are simple. It doesn't matter whether you're a public patient or a health fund member, if you're a patient in a public hospital, treatment should be delivered based on clinical need not insurance status.

But the latest figures in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's Private Health Insurance Use in Australian Hospitals report tell a very different, and worrying, story.

Public patients, for some elective operations such as a cataract extraction, are waiting four times longer than privately insured patients in public hospitals - 113 days compared to 29 days.

Waiting for a tonsillectomy? Public patients have to wait three times longer - 138 days compared to 49 days.

In violation of Medicare principles enshrined in Australian health care agreements, public patients had a median waiting time of 42 days for elective surgery in 2015-16, compared to 20 days for patients who had opted to use their health insurance to cover all or part of their admission.

Health Minister Greg Hunt holds "real concerns" that the practice of public hospitals' "harvesting" private health insurance is driving up the cost of insurance premiums and pushing out waiting lists.

And the situation is getting worse. The number of privately insured patients in public hospitals has doubled in the past decade to 872,000 admissions in 2015-16.

"Data also shows that private health insurance premiums would be around 2.5 per cent lower if this practice wasn't running rampant," a spokesman for Mr Hunt said.

Hospitals are in their rights to treat privately insured patients as a means to raise revenue. However, they shouldn't be giving a certain group of patients preferential treatment.

They've long insisted that the money raised is ploughed back into services, benefiting everyone.

NSW, compared to all other states and territories, had the highest proportion of privately insured patients in public hospitals, 19.9 per cent, compared to the national average of 13.9 per cent.

"The government will continue to work with the states on how we can fix this problem because nobody wins with longer waiting times," Mr Hunt's spokesman said.

This story Public patients waiting four times longer for surgery first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.