Health crisis looms as mums ditch private hospitals
WOMEN are leaving the private maternity sector in the tens of thousands as out-of-pocket costs soar - the highest of any service covered by Medicare.
But as close to 20,000 move from private to public hospitals this year, some of the nation's top obstetricians say there are no winners in this turf war. They believe a crisis is looming.
Brisbane obstetrician and Australian Medical Association's representative on the National Australian Maternity Services Review Gino Pecoraro told The Courier-Mail: "Underfunding is putting women at risk.
"We already see discharge less than 24 hours in public hospitals after a caesarean section in an attempt to free up beds and increase capacity.
"Overworked and stressed public hospital staff are not able to offer the quality service their training expects them to, with insufficient time to properly support breastfeeding and assess women and families for mental health issues."
National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Stephen Lane wants urgent increased government funding.
He agrees the reduction in private hospital births puts strain on the public system and may lead to shorter hospital stays, suboptimal staff-to-patient ratios and less support for mothers.
Queensland 2018 research from James Cook University shows that obstetric care has the highest out-of-pocket costs of any service covered by Medicare and over the last couple of decades have soared by over 1000 per cent.
Dr Lane said national data showed 20,000 fewer births were occurring in private maternity units this year, compared to peak levels earlier this decade when government rebates for private births were better and out-of-pocket expenses were much lower.
He said there had been a stable or fee-reducing structure applied by most specialist obstetricians and gynaecologists, despite a prolonged Medicare freeze and removal of extended Medicare safety net concessions for families accessing private obstetrics.
"It seems unlikely the new tiered private health insurance system will provide any real relief unless pregnancy is covered by gold, silver and bronze policies," Dr Lane said.
Obstetricians pay some of the highest professional indemnity insurance costs of any medical specialty.
Dr Pecoraro said: "Women choosing private care pay tax, private health insurance premiums and then out-of-pocket costs, yet are still finding the private sector unaffordable because successive governments have failed to index Medicare to escalating health costs.
"In fact the rebates these patients are entitled to receive have been frozen since 2014."
Gold Coast woman Rosie Johnson, 26, is 33 weeks pregnant with her first child.
"I am having the baby in the public system as my friends have had good experiences but I am also hiring a private midwife for added protection," she said.