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Cost of living pressures threaten to worsen public hospital waits

Cost of living pressures threaten to worsen public hospital waits

Cost of living pressures are poised to worsen already critical public hospital elective surgery waiting lists in Tasmania.

St.LukesHealth chief executive officer Paul Lupo said the rising cost of living could see Tasmanians with private health insurance leave their health fund and have no option but to be dependent on an already stretched public system for all of their health care.

“In the past two years, as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Tasmania’s public health system, about 10,000 Tasmanians took out health insurance with St.LukesHealth to ensure they could access the health care the needed.

“People clearly understood that the public system was facing significant pressure as it dealt with COVID-related impacts and decided to take responsibility for their own health care.

“But as cost-of-living pressures grow and family budgets are being crunched, there is a very real risk many of those people, particularly those on low or middle incomes, will have no option but revert to the public system where elective surgery waiting lists are already extremely high.

“In March, there were more than 9700 people waiting for elective surgery in the public system, where one in every three patients waits longer than the clinically recommended time for their procedure.

“People on low to middle incomes who have taken out private health insurance need every incentive and support to remain in their health fund and not add to the burden on the public system.

“More than half of all Tasmanians, about 275,000, have some form of private health insurance. Many of those are on low and middle incomes, but the federal government’s means-tested private health insurance rebate has eroded in recent years from 30 per cent to less than 25 per cent.

“While a five per cent rebate erosion may not appear much, it represents a loss of about $23 million from Tasmanian health insurance policy holders every single year.

“That money needs to come back to the Tasmanians who are not only putting their hand in their own pocket to help fund their health care but take pressure off the public system at the same time.”

Mr Lupo said with the private sector already performing two out every three elective surgeries in Tasmania, the public system would face further stress if people were forced out of private health insurance.

“The public hospital system is performing just one third of all elective procedures across the country yet it is perpetually at crisis point with lengthy delays for surgery. The queues will only get bigger if the federal government doesn’t do something to help people remain out of the public system.

“St.LukesHealth is calling on all parties at this election to reinstate the full 30 per cent means-tested private health insurance for low and middle income earners. Restoring the rebate will reduce demand on the public system and ultimately improve access to health care for all Tasmanians.”