ON 2 March 2019 the Federal Minister for Health announced a national strategy to tackle excessive out of-pocket charges by specialists.
The Minister promised a searchable website that would allow the public to compare specialists’ charges.
Initially, fees of gynaecologists, obstetricians and oncologists would be published.
However, specialists would only participate voluntarily. The Government decided not to force specialists to show their fees on the website. In doing so, it based the success of the strategy on the goodwill of medical specialists.
Back in May 2019, CPSA criticised the effectiveness of the proposed website. Addressing the financial distress experienced by patients overcharged for specialist fees by simply asking specialists to publish their fees, CPSA argued, was an inadequate response.
Despite the underwhelming promises made about the website, it appears the Government could not even manage to fulfill the promises it previously made.
The website launched in late December 2019 without its key function: comparison of specialists’ charges.
Patients will not be able to view and compare specialist charges but instead will find predicted out-of-pocket costs for a select number of hospital procedures.
The goodwill of specialists, if it exists, did not prevail. So, the Government resorted to turning the website into a service that is based on data that was already held by the Government.
In making the announcement of this underwhelming website, the Health Minister stated that only “a minority of medical specialists charge very large fees, which can result in large or unexpected out-of-pocket costs”.
Regardless of how many specialists are overcharging, the fact is that it is happening, and Australians are experiencing financial distress as a result. More needs to be done to prevent Australians overpaying for healthcare.
Australia needs price regulations to prevent specialists from having the ability in the first place to charge very large fees.
Quality and affordable healthcare is a human right.