Australia’s health companies face mounting costs

Australia’s health companies face mounting costs

Australians may have to pay more in up-front costs at hospitals as patients become a bargaining chip in negotiations between two multi-billion dollar medical firms.

On August 2 the hospital giant Ramsay Health Care canceled its long-standing deal with private health insurer Bupa and its 3.9 million members because they didn't agree on hospital costs.

There is a 60 day window which ends on October 2, before Bupa customers have to pay more at Ramsay's 72 private hospitals across the country.

Liz Havriluk from Coolum on Queensland's Sunshine Coast said she felt lucky her surgery would still be covered.

She made the deadline for her nasal surgery at Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital next month.

Ms Havriluk said she felt for others who would be left with mounting hospital costs.

Ramsay Health Care has four of the five major private hospitals located on the Sunshine Coast, including Noosa Hospital, Caloundra Private Clinic, Selangor Private Hospital in Nambour and Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital.

Ms Havriluk has been a member of Bupa health insurance for 22 years and her partner since 1953.

The cover is $195 a fortnight.

Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association President Roger Faint said he was already having to comfort and advise patients in similar situations to Ms Havriluk, who were feeling lost because of the stalemate between the two giant health companies.

Faint said they could look further afield.

It puts them in a difficult financial situation where there was a certainty there's now uncertainty, Dr Faint said.

Dr Faint said patients might not realise they were affected until they became sick or injured.

He said that when they pay their premiums thousands of dollars a year, in some cases for a very long time, they can't get the service they thought they were paying for.

It's almost like a false promise, isn't it? Australia Medical Association president Steve Robson said that the dispute would make people question why they shouldn't bother with private health cover.

Professor Robson said that people around the country who have private health insurance are looking at this with some trepidation and saying, ''Why are we in a situation where our health fund and our hospital can't agree on things.

He said hospitals were under pressure due to staff shortages and supply issues, while insurers spent less because so many surgeries were cancelled.

If it's not resolved quickly, I think it's going to ring alarm bells around the country. In statements, Ramsay Health Care said that Bupa's offer was below inflation and did not cover the increases in its costs.

Bupa said it would not accept a deal that would push up premiums for its members.

Bupa said it would continue to pay some of the costs for care, even at Ramsay, but that the hospital may charge more without a deal in place.

On Friday, Bupa competitor HCF confirmed that they had made a five-year deal with Ramsay that recognizes the increased costs hospitals are facing, and Havriluk said she was still facing out-of- pocket costs of $2,500 for her September surgery to address her sleep apnea despite having gold-class membership.

Bupa only covers 85 per cent of the very first nasal procedure, and then the other side I get 50 per cent, then 25 per cent for a third surgery, she said.

It's pretty lousy when you think about all the money you've spent.