Insurance yet to meet the demand for palliative care
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