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Last Updated on 27 June 2019

How Much Do Grommets Cost, and Are They Covered by Private Health Insurance?


Child and Doctor; Child with Grommets

If your child has frequent ear infections, you may already be familiar with grommets. They can sound scary but are a relatively routine procedure for children.

In this guide we’ll answer the questions you might have about kids’ grommets and private health cover, like how much they cost and whether or not they’re covered by insurance.

Key Points
  • Grommets are tiny tubes surgically inserted behind a child’s eardrum to drain out a buildup of excess fluid due to chronic ear infection or glue ear.
  • As a rough estimate, grommets can cost from $800 to $3000 in Australia. Part of this fee may be covered by your health fund, though it will depend on your policy.
  • Grommets are an elective surgery. You may wish to try alternative methods such as waiting it out or auto-inflating balloons. Always consult your doctor before trying anything new.

What Are Grommets?

Grommets are tiny tubes inserted into a child’s eardrum to help drain excess fluid buildup. They are also called tympanostomy tubes, and let air into the middle ear to reduce fluid.

A grommet is less than half a millimetre long, and is inserted into the middle ear during a short operation called myringotomy. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes and your child will be under general anaesthetic.

The grommets usually stay in for anywhere from 6 to 12 months, and they come out on their own. In some cases, they may stay in for 18 months.

If grommets do not come out on their own, a brief removal procedure may be required.

What is a Grommet?

Why Do Kids Need Grommets?

Grommets are usually recommended if your child has persistent ear infections or glue ear.

Ear infections

Ear infections are often associated with other illnesses or infections, like the common cold. Germs make their way up the eustachian tube, which goes between the back of the nose to the back of the eardrum.

The tube then swells and becomes infected, making it difficult for air to get through and leading to fluid buildup. You may notice that your child’s ear is red and swollen.

Glue ear

The middle ear is typically filled with air, which allows for clear hearing and normal levels of comfort. However, in some young children, mucus builds up in the inner ear and does not drain out. This can cause discomfort and blocked hearing.

When a grommet is inserted, air rushes in from the outside and balances the pressure in your child’s ear. The mucus inside is drained out as it normally would be, providing relief and returning normal hearing.

Doctors have varying opinions on when to move forward with grommets. As a general guideline, grommets go in after glue ear has been present for three months. For ear infections, grommets are often recommended after a child has a minimum of three infections in six months or four in twelve months.

Ear infections can be very painful. The pain can affect your child’s performance at school as well as in other activities. The good news is that these ear infections usually do not persist beyond childhood.

Who Inserts Grommets?

Grommets are usually inserted by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. Your GP can recommend a specific surgeon or write you an open referral to visit a specialist of your choosing.

Your specialist will explain what to expect before, during, and after the surgery, including any precautions you may need to take.

How Much Do Grommets Cost?

The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) is a suggested schedule of fees for a range of medical procedures. Surgeons are not required to adhere to these fees, and most do not. The MBS fee for grommets is currently $238.80 per ear.

However, the actual cost of grommets will be determined by the surgeon and the hospital. As a rough guide, grommets can cost around $800 to $3000. The price may be at the higher end of the scale if your child needs bilateral grommets (one in each ear).

The price range reflects associated fees, such as an initial consultation with the ENT, anesthetist fees, and hospital fees if applicable. Your surgeon should provide you with a written quote prior to the surgery, which you can take to your health fund.

Your health fund should be able to confirm how much they’ll cover prior to the surgery, so you are aware of any out of pocket costs.

Are Grommets Covered by Private Health Cover?

Grommets are an elective procedure. If you wish to have grommets inserted through the public system, you may be on a long waiting list for the procedure.

If you want to have your child’s grommets inserted sooner, relieving their pain and restoring hearing, you may want to go through the private system.

Private health cover can take care of some of the costs of grommets. However, this depends on your policy and your surgeon.

Policy Factors

The more comprehensive your policy, the more likely it is to include grommet insertion. You can refer to your policy’s terms and conditions to see if grommets are covered. It’s also a good idea to contact your fund to get explicit information on what is covered and how much.

Surgeon Fees

Your surgeon can set their own fees for the grommet procedure. Your health fund will likely contribute a set amount towards the surgeon’s fees. The remaining amount is known as ‘the gap,’ and this is the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

If your health fund offers a gap cover scheme, and the surgeon participates in that scheme, this can reduce your out of pocket costs. Read more on gap fees and what to watch out for here.

Excess

You may also have to pay an excess, which isn’t the same as the gap. When you set up your policy, you should have nominated an excess amount. This is a set amount you pay towards the cost of treatment before your health fund makes a contribution.

Alternatives to Grommets

So are grommets the only answer? There are a few things you can try first that may be less invasive and less expensive. Discuss the options with your doctor before making any decisions.

Wait for natural resolution

In some cases, glue ear or infections will resolve themselves within a few months. You can talk to your doctor about this option before moving forward with grommets.

Hearing aids

Glue ear can lead to temporary hearing loss. If you’re waiting for the infection to self-heal, you can consider hearing aids in the meantime.

Auto-inflation balloons

These balloons are inserted into the nose and inflated, then used to push air up the eustachian tube. However, it requires the child’s participation and consistent use to be effective.

Medication

Antibiotics may help with bacterial infections, but are useless against viral infections. Painkillers can also be used to relieve pain if you are waiting out the infection.

Facts About Grommets in Australia

Kids Grommets and Private Health Cover

Private health insurance is a non-negotiable purchase for many parents. If your child needs surgery, whether it’s something minor like grommets or something more involved, it’s good to know that you have choice over their treatment location.

Private health insurance can provide your family with more choice and flexibility when it comes to health care. Fortunately, many policies include great benefits for kids, such as no excess for kids or free dental and optical.

To score a policy with great benefits at a low cost, compare deals today. It only takes a few minutes and it could save you a bundle.

Disclaimer: The above information is correct and current at the time of publication


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