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Public vs. Private Health Care: The Pros and Cons

Jonathan October 18th, 2012 0 comments

The healthcare system in Australia includes private and public hospitals, medical practitioners and the dozens of insurance schemes that fund them. The Medicare system was set up to ensure that everyone has access to basic medical care and is available to all Australians and permanent residents.

In addition to the protection afforded by Medicare, many Australians take up some form of private health insurance; the private health system funds approximately a third of all healthcare in the country.

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Medicare Cover

Medicare provides universal access to hospital treatment and some subsidised out of hospital treatment. Anyone covered by Medicare will receive free treatment at a public hospital. Certain medical practitioners (including specialists, optometrists and dentists) also provide free or subsidized treatment for specific services. Some of the other services covered by Medicare include X-ray tests, examinations and pathology tests. The costs of prescription medicine are subsidised by the government.

Patients May Have to Play the Waiting Game

While Medicare performs an important role in the provision of health services, it does not cover all aspects of healthcare and does have its drawbacks. Waiting times may be long for non-emergency medical procedures. The choice of doctors at public hospitals is also limited in comparison to that of private hospitals.

Public Hospital Waiting List Calculator

This calculator presents information about the length of time waited by patients on public hospital elective surgery waiting lists before being admitted for surgery. Data is sourced from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Admissions The number of people admitted to hospital for in in 2013.
Days waited at 50th percentile The 'median' number of days waited for this procedure to be carried out. In other words, out of 100 people, 50 people will wait more days for this procedure, and 50 people will wait fewer days.
Days waited at 90th percentile 90% of people will have their procedure complete in this number of days or fewer.
Per cent waited more than 365 days The percentage of people waiting over a year for their procedure.

Private Health Care Fills in the Gaps

Australians gain access to the private health care system through health insurance. By paying premiums, you can cover yourself and your family for a range of medical services offered by health funds. These premiums are affordable and are not based on your health, medical history or age.

The private healthcare system improves on Medicare by offering shorter wait times at private facilities and the ability to select from a range of private hospitals and doctors according to your individual preference. There is also a greater flexibility in scheduling surgery and hospital fees, including accommodation, doctor’s fees and theatre costs, can be covered by health insurance.

Extras Cover is Available With Private Insurance

Further, the private health system offers ancillary services (‘Extra’ services) not provided by Medicare – for example, physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment and dental treatment, which extends to general dental and major dental, orthodontics and endodontics. These ‘extras’ also include the use of appliances like hearing aids and glucose monitors. Treatments like acupuncture, naturopathy and remedial massage can be covered as well. Medicare does not provide for any of this.

Private Funds Make Tax Breaks Possible

Changes to the tax structure in recent years has also made health insurance more desirable for people. The Government offers a health insurance rebate on premiums. Australians with private health cover receive rebates on premiums while older Australians receive slightly higher rebates.

There is no perfect healthcare system but Australia’s fusion of private and public healthcare does seem to work for most. Medicare undoubtedly forms the basis for healthcare but there is no reason why a person shouldn’t seek coverage from private healthcare providers as well. The benefits are extensive and given the wide range of insurance policies available these days, there are many options that can be tailored to suit the needs of an individual and his or her family.

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

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