How to make the most of your health cover
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Cancer patients compulsorily transferred to a private hospital have been told they will now be charged a fee for their treatment, and will no longer be eligible to bulk-bill for tests and consultations.
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital outsourced many of its cancer services to the not-for-profit private hospital Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in 2013, under an agreement with the NSW government.
The Sydney Local Health District buys the treatment of public patients from the Lifehouse, which also treats private patients.
Mike Baird, right, with his wife Kerryn and Tony Abbott, left, with his wife Margie visit breast cancer patient Lyn Marvey at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Hospital in February. Photo: Nic Walker
But gynaecology patients of the Lifehouse were told in April they would no longer be able to bulk-bill their treatment unless they had a pension or health care card, and would have to pay for the services they received on the day.
“Our billing policy has been developed to maintain the quality of our services,” the letter said.
“From Monday 11th April 2016, to access bulk-billing, you will need to provide your pension card or health care card at each visit.”
The gap between the Lifehouse charge and what can later be claimed back from Medicare ranges from $12.65 for an endometrial biopsy to $132.85 for a follow-up consultation.
Following questions from Fairfax Media, the Lifehouse released a statement on Friday to say the letter had been sent to some patients by mistake.
“Sydney Local Health District contracts Lifehouse to do a specified volume of cancer services including gynaecology, head and neck, breast, radiation oncology and medical oncology,” the statement said.
“Private patients referred outside that contract are bulk-billed if they have a pension or concession card or are in financial distress, or they pay a small additional fee.
“A letter intended for private gynaecological patients was mistakenly sent to a small number of gynaecology patients who will not have to pay the fee.
“We apologise for any distress this has caused, and would urge these patients to please call Chris O’Brien Lifehouse if concerns remain.”
None of the patients contacted by Fairfax Media agreed to be identified in a story, as they were suffering from varying degrees of illness.
One patient said she was shocked to receive the letter from the Lifehouse, after she was already unhappy about being transferred to a private hospital against her will.
“We’re only talking a couple of hundred dollars at this point, but if I needed an MRI or to have any treatment, I have no idea what that would cost me,” she said.
The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, named after the famous brain cancer surgeon who died before his vision was realised, is an integrated treatment and research centre that was hailed on its opening as a unique collaboration between government and the private sector.
It leased its premises on the RPA campus from the NSW government, while the federal government tipped in $161 million to include the construction of a state-of-the-art building for the treatment of public and private patients.
It now has 56,000 public patient visits and 55,000 private visits each year and leases some of its theatres to the bed-stretched RPA.
A spokeswoman for the Sydney Local Health District said the district bought “select acute admitted and non-admitted cancer services” from the Lifehouse, and patients who received them were not out of pocket.
Concord Hospital continued to provide a comprehensive suite of cancer services, she said.