The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has today offered in-principle support for the proposed development of a national searchable website providing the public with information about the costs of medical specialist services.
The recently released report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Out of Pocket (OOP) Costs recommended the development of a national website, where specialists will be asked to publish fees for outpatient consults and the top 80 per cent of the most common services they provide.
Professor Christian Gericke, RACP fellow and Clinical Director of Neurology at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, who represented the College on the committee, said “Improving the transparency of OOP costs is absolutely critical to mitigate the impact of high out of pocket expenses on access to specialist care.”
“The report shows the vast majority of specialists are doing the right thing. But it also finds a small minority of medical specialists are charging exorbitant out of pocket costs. Consumers are often not well informed on how much other specialists charge for the same service.”
“While several privately-owned websites already provide consumer information on specialist care, an independently operated government website will promote greater provider and consumer trust and participation.”
“The College supports the proposed website in principle, but we suspect there will be numerous design issues that will need to be addressed. These include the development of appropriate complaint and recourse seeking processes.”
“The RACP also welcomes the recognition that for the website to be effective it will need to be backed up by an education campaign aimed at consumers, general practitioners and medical specialists. In particular we welcome education addressing the misperception that higher fees equate to higher quality services.”
Professor Gericke cautioned that while the website is an important first step in addressing high OOP costs being charged by some specialists, it cannot operate as a standalone measure and must be accompanied by other longer-term initiatives to protect patients and their families from high out of pocket payments for healthcare.
“Creating more transparency in related areas of the private healthcare system, in particular improving the comparability of private health insurance plans, what they cover, and updating the government subsidies for private health services, the Medicare Benefits Schedule, are other important aspects of future proofing our healthcare system,” he said.
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