Public hospitals charging patients for waiting

 

Exclusive: Public hospitals are billing health funds for time patients spend waiting for a lift home or prescriptions, driving up the cost of everyone's health insurance.

Concord Hospital, in Sydney, has set up a special Emergency Department Short Stay Unit with 10 beds and some chairs, a whistleblower has told News Corp Australia.

Patients who agree to use their health fund to pay for their care are admitted into this unit while they are waiting for a lift home or for their prescription to arrive and their health fund is billed.

"The clerical person tells the patient they are being admitted as an inpatient and ask would you like to use your health fund," Former Concord Hospital administrative staffer Frank Collins revealed.

"In the past if you were waiting for a doctor's letter or for transport you used to go back to the ED waiting room, now you go to the EDSSU," he said.

"There were times when they put unstable people in here and would sign them up to use their health fund and then put them back in ED, the health fund then covers them from the second they are in ED," he said.

A whistleblower has revealed how public hospitals charge patients — even when they are waiting for a lift home.
A whistleblower has revealed how public hospitals charge patients — even when they are waiting for a lift home.

Some patients have allegedly died in this unit which is meant to be staffed by a nurse but none was in attendance, News Corp Australia has been told.

News Corp Australia this week approached the Sydney Local Health District for comment on the claims but it failed to directly answer our questions.

A News Corp Australia investigation has found cash strapped public hospitals are pursuing people beyond the grave demanding grieving relatives of dead people agree to bill the deceased's health fund for their treatment.

Women who suffer miscarriages, burns victims and people who have heart attacks are facing massive out of pocket costs after they bow to public hospital pressure to bill their care to their health fund only to find their policy didn't cover the treatment.

Public hospitals raked in over $1.6 billion from billing health funds every year and funds have estimated it is adding $92 to the average health fund premium.

Every Australian is entitled to be treated for free in a public hospital even if they have private health cover.

Public hospital patients are also being charged while waiting for prescriptions. Picture: AP
Public hospital patients are also being charged while waiting for prescriptions. Picture: AP


A Sydney vascular surgeon warned today if public hospital doctors were not allowed to bill their private patients, doctors incomes would fall by around one third and hospital budgets would shrink by 25 per cent.

"If this income is taken away we'll get less quality consultants in public hospitals," Dr Greg Lesley a vascular surgeon at Liverpool and Bankstown public hospitals said.

He estimates around a third of his income comes from billing health fund members in a public hospital.

He can earn $5000 from a health fund when he treats a private patient for an abdominal aortic aneurysm but earns just $840 for providing the same treatment to a public patient.

AMA (NSW) Vice President Dr Danielle McMullen said: "accusing the public hospitals of being greedy, when years of failure between State and Federal Governments to agree to suitable funding, obscures the real issues."

She questioned why health funds continued to offer public hospital only products if they weren't prepared to pay.

"Avarice is not a factor here, it's a question of can these hospitals continue to provide the services the public needs," she said.

If you have any information on this practice, contact the reporter sue.dunlevy@news.com.au



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