Out-of-pocket medical fees back in the spotlight as ministers edge closer to decision

Medical politics

By Tessa Hoffman

3 Aug 2018

The push to force doctors disclose their fees was in the spotlight again this week when the country’s health ministers met in Alice Springs.

Prior to the COAG Health Council’s meeting on 2 August, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey said she would use the occasion to call for prices to be made available to patients before their first appointment, telling the ABC the federal government “could not ignore the issue any longer”.

“Vulnerable patients who have no choice but to access treatment are not being given the information they deserve.”

Last year a Senate committee looking at the issue recommended making individual doctors publish their fees in a searchable database, however the AMA says this is easier said than done given the average specialist will bill 300 different Medicare items, and rebates from private health insurers add another layer of complexity.

At the COAG meeting ministers heard that an investigation by a ministerial advisory committee into out-of-pocket medical costs – and specific options to increase transparency – was close to being finalised, which would enable ministers to agree to “decisive actions”.

Health ministers also agreed to “commit to create a data and reporting environment that increases patient choice through greater public disclosure of hospital and clinician performance and information”, according to a communique published online.

Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt’s office was unable to provide further details on models intended to be used, but the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Alison Verhoeven CEO said it was unlikely to involve the publication of individual doctors’ performance measures, a task that not only involve an enormous data collection effort but would be fiercely contested by the AMA.

She suspected the move would involve providing more detailed data on surgical outcomes that are already published on the government’s MyHospitals site.

At the meeting health ministers also agreed to:

  • Approve targeted consultation for proposed legislation which will amend mandatory reporting requirements by treating practitioners.
  • Assist with an investigation into links between breast implants and cancer diagnosis being carried out by Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
  • Endorse the Optimal Cancer Care Pathway (OCP) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which is the first OCP under the National Cancer Work Plan that specifically addresses the needs of a cultural group.

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