Private hospitals see palliative care market, but need funds
From Health cover the best environment for people who were reaching the end of their life.
‘‘ So we set about finding an appropriate site. Our centre has been purpose-built to serve the needs of palliative care patients. It can be used by anyone who has private health insurance. It is 100 per cent privately funded, it doesn’t receive any state or federal funding.’’
Bennett says about 40 per cent of patients are referred from Cabrini Health’s acute hospitals, 40 per cent from the home-based service, and the remaining 20 per cent come ‘‘ from a wide variety of places, including public hospitals and community services.’’
‘‘ We are not sure why other private health providers are not providing this service. They are financially viable services. Running an inpatient palliative-care bed is about the same cost as running an acute-care bed, and it’s a lot more comfortable for patients than being in a public hospital.’’
The Australian Private Hospitals Association executive director Michael Roff says about 40 of the association’s 290 member hospitals — excluding day surgeries — offer palliative care.
‘‘ It’s likely to be more, because the major Catholic hospital groups, for example, are not members and a number of them would provide palliative care services. There is quite a range of private hospitals in size and ownership that provide palliative services.’’
Roff says the shortage of palliative care specialists could limit the level of palliativecare services offered in hospitals. ‘‘ Palliative care is just one of a number of specialties that is suffering from workforce shortages across both the public and private sectors.’’
He says some health funds, however, are reluctant to cover palliative care because there is no way to accurately predict the cost. ‘‘ The funds would offer some level of benefit for palliative care treatment, but in some cases it may just cover accommodation and medical services costs, and not necessarily cover things like non-PBS listed drugs.
‘‘ There may be some level of patient copayment that is required. The message I’ve got back from the health funds is that they don’t necessarily like the open-ended nature of the treatment. It obviously has an end-point that could vary greatly from patient to patient from a couple of weeks to months.
‘‘ That’s something I guess they find difficult to plan for in terms of their benefit outlays,’’ Roff said.
Australian Health Insurance Association chief executive officer Michael Armitage said the recent changes to health insurance could make it easier for patients with private cover to access palliative care.
‘‘ The recent legislation removed restrictions on the timing of services such as palliative care. When people joined before, there were limits to when they could start accessing their cover. Now there aren’t the same restrictions, and we think that will lead to significant changes.’’
However, Armitage warns that palliative care, like all other services, would have to be financially viable.
‘‘ The reality is that a health fund has to balance all the interests of every member, and one of those interests is financial.’’