Private hospital 101

I work at a private hospital, in the emergency department (ED). Prior to starting this job in August last year, I had spent all of my career, apart from the obvious gaps when I was sick, in public hospitals. The change has been quite interesting from several financial prespectives.

  1. Funding private hospital ED

In a public hospital emergency department, as long as you have a Medicare card, everything is free. To you, I mean; obviously the cost has to go somewhere, so it goes to the government because they believe in free access to healthcare for all Australians through their funded hospitals. It’s actually one of THE most amazing, and EXTREMELY underappreciated benefits to living in Australia. Whatever you think of any government down under, you absolutely SHOULD respect and appreciate this benefit of life here. If you had any idea how much money you rack up in one long wait in ED for nursing care, medical care, tests and scans, medications, interventions and so on, I think you would be shocked! We are talking hundreds if not thousands of dollars over several hours, and that’s just in ED. Try to think of healthcare, and paying your taxes, from this perspective; maybe you’ll be calmer in the ED, and more resigned to all that money you fork over to the government.

To access the emergency department where I work, you pay $300 upfront before you walk in the door which is an out of pocket fee, not rebatable by your health insurance, paid on the spot before anything else happens. Basically it’s a general fee against the types of costs you rack up, such as medications, blood tests, Xrays and CT scans. If you end up accumulating costs above this payment, they may be charged to you. At the beginning of working here I thought this wasn’t great, or fair, as far as healthcare equity goes . But now I think about it differently. We are one private hospital. In the city of Melbourne there are 3 major public hospitals: Royal Melbourne Hospital, St Vincent’s public hospital, and The Alfred, as well as specialized public hospitals: Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Care, Royal Children’s hospital, The Women’s, Eye and Ear hospital. That’s plenty of public health to go around, and its just in Melbourne city; not the suburbs. There are other private hospitals as well, and I’ve come around to accepting that there’s a valid place for both. We are only trying to recuperate costs outlaid because the government doesn’t fund our patients, we do, at least in the outpatient setting. That’s what category the ED technically falls into, outpatient; in fact sometimes you hear it referred to as outpatients. Private health insurance, check the small print, only covers the INPATIENT stay once the patient is admitted to the ward so if we don’t get some money somehow for what we do in ED, we are totally out of pocket ourselves, and as a private enterprise, we wouldn’t be able to continue to offer healthcare, which would be bad for everyone, not least of all me whose whole day is spent in ED which I love!! So yes, I do now see the virtue. Yet somehow, when I see someone on a stretcher with a vomit bag being asked to sign waiver forms for their $300, it still generates an ick factor!! Weird, huh?!?

I would add, because it is relevant, that the $300 fee does also serve a function of natural selection where those who can afford it come into our ED, and those who can’t afford it, don’t. That’s not to say that they are just turned away, not at all. We always ensure they are transferred to a public hospital that can care for them without the money burden. And all patients coming in by ambulance are informed before arriving that the fee applies to them, so that they can choose to go to a public hospital should they not want to pay. So, would you pay?