Australians pay thousands more for private health cover

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Australian families are paying up to $400 more a month for private health insurance than consumers in comparable countries like Britain and New Zealand.

The Turnbull government acknowledged during the election that a majority of the 13 million people with private health cover feel they are "not getting value for money from their policy".

The private health industry blames this on a range of factors, including the much higher cost of medical devices like pacemakers and hip replacements compared to other countries and the public health system.

High risk pregnant women are missing out on transfers to major hospitals.
High risk pregnant women are missing out on transfers to major hospitals. Photo: Supplied

An international comparison of premiums confirms Australia's place among the highest cost markets in the world for private health cover.

Bupa, which originated in Britain, charges a British family with two adults and two children $170 a month for its top cover, according to its online quote.

In Australia, Bupa would charge the same family $588 a month.

Britain and Australia both spend roughly 9.0 per cent of GDP on health.

A family looking for top cover in New Zealand could expect to pay $300 less a month than in Australia and the same family in Ireland would be almost $175 better off.

The stark international comparison comes as the private health insurance sector turns up the heat on private hospitals and the medical devices industry for what it claims is the overcharging of patients, which then flows through to the cost of cover.


In a priorities document sent to both sides of politics after the election, Bupa said a standard ceramic hip bought by Sydney's Prince of Wales public hospital for $4900 is charged at $11,000 for a private patient in the hospital next door.

A Bupa spokesman said the ageing population along with the price of devices and implants were driving up the price of healthcare.

"We are working hard with government, hospitals, doctors and our networks to address these rising healthcare costs, which we recognise are unsustainable," he said.

Bupa stressed that the private health market in Britain was "very different", with insurers able to pick and choose customers and force patients to seek their approval before being referred to a specialist.

Rachel David, chief executive of the insurers' peak body Public Health Australia, said: "Australia has a community-rated system, which means health funds cannot turn old, sick and unhealthy people away or charge them more.

"All these other places have risk-rated systems where the funds can refuse to cover or charge them a loading, so average premiums are lower."

The Consumers Health Forum acknowledged differences in the systems was a factor but chief executive Leanne Wells said they also "reflect the cost drivers of private health care in Australia".

"When you consider that overall the UK's health expenditure per capita (including public health services) is 8.8 per cent of GDP, similar if a little lower than Australia's 9.4 per cent of GDP, the question is why should private health insurance and private health care be so much more expensive here?" she said.

"While health funds and private hospitals deliver big profit increases and hospital specialists are in the main very highly paid, the consumer pays."

Private health insurance is dominated by four big players in Medibank, Bupa, HCF and NIB who have 70 per cent of the market between them.

The government approved a rise of 5.6 per cent in health insurance premiums in July and insurers have been given until November to submit their cost estimates for the next round, to be announced in February.

Health Minister Sussan Ley and her department are reviewing both the private health insurance sector and the Prostheses List, which sets the price of devices paid by private patients.