By St.LukesHealth CEO Paul Lupo

With the Federal election looming, and health likely to be a major talking point, it’s vital to reinforce the importance of a sustainable and affordable private health insurance sector as an essential part of Australia’s health system.

More than 13 million Australians rely on private health insurance, and close to two thirds of elective surgery in Australia is funded through private health insurance, lifting a significant burden off the public health system.

In any conversation about health, you cannot ignore the fact the Private Health Insurance Rebate helps to keep premiums affordable, encourages Australians to take out private health cover, and importantly, eases pressure on the public health system.

But that doesn’t mean the system is perfect; there are always things we can do to make it better.

Recently, The Mercury published an opinion piece by Martyn Goddard, titled “Shock of two waiting lists: putting our public patients last”.

In that piece, Mr Goddard argued that too many patients are being treated in our public hospital system as “private patients”.

It might surprise people, but I agree.

There will always be some private patients needing treatment in a public hospital; however, the practice of the public system chasing patients to use their health insurance to assist in balancing their own budgets is not always in the best interests of the patient, or indeed the health system.

Sometimes, privately insured patients can be charged out-of-pocket expenses in the public system when they are already covered under Medicare as a public patient for that admission, effectively paying twice.

It’s also important to remember that everyone is entitled to treatment in our public health system, whether they have private health insurance or not.

Reducing this cost shifting is just one step in ensuring we have an accessible and affordable health care system; and it is something private health insurers are advocating for ahead of this year’s Federal election.

Also on this election wish list is the need to further reform prostheses costs to ensure equal treatment of patients and stopping the unnecessary costs.

Although there has been some progress made by the Australian Government to reduce the inflated prostheses cost, current regulations force health funds to pay benefits for medical devices which are two to five times higher than the price charged to public hospitals for the same device.

This is of importance to our ageing Tasmanians with private health insurance and private health insurers have committed to passing on, through lower premiums, every dollar that is saved through reform in this space.

The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) is immensely valuable to Australians but it is also incredibly expensive.

Last year patients accessed about 155 million GP services, costing the taxpayer $7.8 billion.

The Australian Government has commissioned several expert panels to review each section of the MBS.

The expert panels have recommended a number changes and some have already been implemented and we are urging the government to expedite the remainder so savings can be redirected to areas of need.

Health is the single biggest issue affecting Tasmania and is the biggest spend in the State Budget.

Our world-class health system works best when the public and private systems work together and complement each other, minimising waste and maximising value for the community.