BEYOND COVID: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HOSPITAL TREATMENT
To take care of ourselves and our loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to change the way we work, study, shop and interact with each other. There are big changes happening in the healthcare industry, too, including changes to private hospitals and treatment.
The Australian hospital system has recently adapted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To guarantee availability of beds, staff, medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), public and private hospitals have been working together to make sure they have the capacity to treat those that need care. Watching what’s happening around the world and adapting to change has reinforced how important it is to ‘slow the spread’, so our hospitals can provide care to those who need it.
The federal government’s COVID-19 deal with the private hospital sector has made more than 100,000 staff and more than 30,000 private hospital beds available during the pandemic. This deal increases the capacity of our health system and allows private hospitals to still perform some surgery during this time.
“As a country, we must all pull together and work as a united healthcare system to balance the short- and long-term healthcare needs across Australia. We support the government’s move to an integrated system of private and public hospitals working together to increase capacity at this critical time,” says HCF CEO and Managing Director Sheena Jack.
Although the public health system is leading the response to COVID-19, private hospitals are also playing an important role in Australia’s response to the virus by providing extra healthcare resources and support. According to Australian Private Hospitals Association Chief Executive Michael Roff, the role of private hospitals after the pandemic is also clear: “When the pandemic is over, we are going to need all of the capacity of the private hospital system to deal with the backlog of essential surgery.”
While the focus of these healthcare changes has been on the impact of elective surgery, private hospitals are still open during this time for certain categories of medical and mental health admissions.
Re-introduction of elective surgery
The latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) data shows that around 11 million Australians (about 44% of the population) have private hospital cover. As our healthcare system moves through this period of change, it’s worth staying covered in case you need to use your health insurance.
We’re seeing the positive impact of social distancing, improved hand hygiene and staying home, with the number of COVID-19 cases dropping in Australia. Preventative measures have helped ‘flatten the curve’, which has led to the federal government relaxing the rules around elective surgery.
During the suspension on elective procedures, Category 1 and urgent Category 2 surgeries were still being performed, (including dialysis, heart surgeries and pregnancy and birth). But as of 27 April 2020, all Category 2 and selected, urgent Category 3 procedures are now allowed to go ahead.
- Screening programs (cancer and other diseases)
- Post cancer reconstruction procedures (like breast reconstruction)
- Procedures for children under 18 years of age
- Joint replacements (including knees, hips, shoulders)
- Cataracts and eye procedures
- Endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures.
“Private hospitals welcome the controlled return of elective surgery, which must be conducted so patients, healthcare workers and other hospital staff are as safe as possible,” says Roff.
You might be wondering what your private hospital experience would be like if you’re admitted during the pandemic. Right now, the only thing you’d probably notice is that it’s a bit quieter than normal. As more elective surgery is allowed, we'll slowly see private hospitals schedule in more procedures. This must be a gradual move, to make sure each state has enough PPE resources and capacity to care for patients.
“A phased re-introduction will allow hospitals to minimise risk to patients, monitor use of PPE and ensure we maintain capacity in the system to address the pandemic if it is required,” says Roff.
Using private health cover during COVID-19
Your private health cover still gets you access to your choice of specialist. It’s also worth knowing if you have an accident or are unwell and need an ambulance, emergency ambulance to hospital is covered under your hospital policy (unless you’re already covered under a state scheme).
Keeping your cover through the pandemic means you’ve got peace of mind when it comes to your health. But, if you’ve recently lost your job and are struggling to pay your premiums, call our dedicated COVID-19 Hardship Team on 13 13 34 to talk through your options. If you have a pre-existing condition and you cancel or downgrade your hospital cover, you might need to re-serve a waiting period when you decide to re-join any health fund, including HCF. If you cancel your cover, then you won’t be covered by private health insurance for any services you could need during this crisis. If you’re considering this option, it’s worth giving your accountant or the Australian Tax Office a call to look into how this could affect your Lifetime Health Cover loading and the Medicare Levy Surcharge.
You’re covered for COVID-19 related treatments until 30 September 2020
We’ve changed the way we do business to make sure Australian residents with HCF hospital policies are covered for COVID-19-related claims until 30 September 2020 and can still choose to be treated as a private patient in a private hospital.
“To give our members the utmost peace of mind during this time, we made the early decision that all hospital policies would cover any COVID-19-related hospital admissions at no extra cost to our members. At such a stressful time, the last thing people need to be thinking about is whether they are covered,” says Sheena Jack.
Regardless of your level of existing hospital cover, we’ll cover treatments in hospital that result from COVID-19, like pneumonia treatment or kidney dialysis. As with any pre-existing condition, you’ll be covered if you’ve served the waiting period.
If you’re admitted to a public hospital for treatment as a public COVID-19 patient, you’ll be fully covered by Medicare. If you choose to be treated as a private patient in a public hospital, you could end up with out-of-pocket costs, as doctors can choose to charge more than the government-recommended fee. You might also have to pay your hospital excess if you have one on your policy.
If you haven’t had private hospital cover before, you’ll still be covered for COVID-19-related treatment if you’ve served the initial waiting periods on your HCF policy and the condition isn’t pre-existing.
How we’re supporting members during the pandemic
We’ve made big financial changes to support our members during this time. We’ve postponed our scheduled premium increase until at least 1 October 2020 and are offering financial support to members who have suddenly become unemployed or had their income reduced as a result of the pandemic. To talk through your options, please call our dedicated HCF Hardship Team on 13 13 34 to see how we can help.
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