WHEN it comes to excuses for not having done something, COVID-19 is fast developing into the new the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse.
The Secretary of the federal Health Department told a Senate estimates committee that the Medical Cost Finder website had been “put on ice” due to the pandemic.
In theory, this website allows people to compare the fees of medical specialists. The Australian Government has just committed an extra $17.1 million in funding to improve it.
At the moment it shows average fees per state. For example, cataract surgery costs $2,100 in NSW and $1,600 in Tasmania. If you are insured, you pay $650 out-of-pocket expenses in NSW and $30 in Tasmania.
The next, delayed step is to get specialists to volunteer their fees and enter these on the Medical Cost Finder website.
The idea is that this will lead to price competition between medical specialists. The problem is that medical specialists generally speaking don’t like the idea of price competition. They are, to put it politely, unlikely to voluntarily cooperate.
“We hoped to have greater progress on the individual fee website before now but because of COVID of course that’s been delayed,” the Secretary said.
Of course it has.
Although why COVID-19 would delay work on a website is anybody’s guess.
The Secretary then said that he hoped that the specialist fee data would be available by the end of 2021.
The Secretary’s deputy said that if doctors and specialists did not volunteer the information, the department would consider whether it should be made mandatory.
The Secretary said the Health Minister would prefer to work with the medical profession on volunteering their fees, but the department was also “determined to make it work”.
The delay in improving the Medical Cost Finder website coincides with a refusal by the Health Minister to reject private health insurance premium increases for 2020, despite many households facing hardship due to the coronavirus recession.
Some things not even COVID-19 can delay.