In­sur­ance yet to meet the de­mand for pal­lia­tive care

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Clara Pi­rani Med­i­cal re­porter

TER­MI­NALLY ILL pa­tients may be trans­ferred to pub­lic hos­pi­tals to die, even if they have private health in­sur­ance, be­cause there is a short­age of pal­lia­tive care beds in private hos­pi­tals.

Pal­lia­tive Care Aus­tralia pres­i­dent Mar­garet O’Con­nor says health funds and private hos­pi­tals are not pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient pal­lia­tive care ser­vices to keep pace with the grow­ing de­mand from an age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

At the mo­ment there is vir­tu­ally no com­mu­nity-linked pal­lia­tive care avail­able in private hos­pi­tals, and your health in­sur­ance won’t pay for pal­lia­tive care at home,’’ Pro­fes­sor O’Con­nor said.

There is an ur­gent need to de­velop poli­cies around pal­lia­tive care in Aus­tralia’s private hospi­tal sys­tem so that pa­tients and fam­i­lies can have a choice about where they die. What hap­pens now is you are trans­ferred to the pub­lic sys­tem when you are at the end of life. And I think many Aus­tralians would be sur­prised to hear that.’’

Ac­cord­ing to PCA, de­mand for pal­lia­tive care in­creased by 17 per cent from 1998 to 2006 in NSW alone.

O’Con­nor says leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced four months ago al­lows — for the first time — funds to cover some ser­vices pro­vided in pa­tients’ homes rather than hos­pi­tals, and should give in­sur­ers the green light to cover pal­lia­tive care.

‘‘ The fed­eral Gov­ern­ment passed leg­is­la­tion four months ago to en­able home-based care for private in­sur­ers, but there has been no re­sponse from private health care funds.

‘‘ Why not? If you have been pay­ing for private health in­sur­ance all your work­ing life I think you’d be amazed to find it doesn’t pay for ser­vices when you re­ally need them.’’

About 77,000 Aus­tralians each year are di­ag­nosed with a ter­mi­nal ill­ness.

PCA be­lieves that liv­ing and dy­ing at home is a more de­sir­able al­ter­na­tive to in­pa­tient care, as it re­duces pres­sure on the health sys­tem while of­fer­ing the most com­fort­able qual­ity of life for the pa­tient.

Cabrini Health in Melbourne, which op­er­ates two private acute-care hos­pi­tals, also runs a 22-bed private pal­lia­tive care fa­cil­ity. Man­ager of Cabrini Health’s pal­lia­tive care cen­tre, Peter Ben­nett, says he is sur­prised that more private hos­pi­tals don’t of­fer pal­lia­tive care.

‘‘ We be­gan to of­fer an in-the-home pal­lia­tive care ser­vice 10 years ago and we opened the in­pa­tient unit eight years ago. We had a grow­ing on­col­ogy unit and it was felt that the acute-care cam­pus was not

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