Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said he did not expect many doctors would publish their fees on the website, which was “a complete failure” and “should be abandoned”.
“Until the website can actually give an individual patient confidence about what gap they might be facing compared with other practitioners, then it’s not going to be useful at all,” Dr Khorshid said.
Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy director Henry Cutler said the fact participation was voluntary meant it would be “impossible for patients to determine value for money” by searching the website.
The latest official data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Australians spent $30 billion on out-of-pocket medical costs in 2017-18.
Grattan Institute health economist Stephen Duckett said the budget provided “no real enhancement to ensure usable comparative information on all doctors will be available to the public”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced plans to build a medical fee transparency website detailing individual specialist fees in March 2019, to address “egregious” sums charged by some doctors, which was highlighted by patients resorting to crowdfunding websites to raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay for surgical procedures.
Official data shows the website, which went live in December, was accessed by fewer than 10,000 Australians in the first six months.
Australian Society of Anaesthetists president Suzi Nou said Medicare and health insurer rebates had failed to keep up with rising costs, and the government should address this “rather than spending millions of dollars for a website to document just how out of touch they are”.
Dr Khorshid said private health insurance needed to be “simplified” to make it possible to easily work out what gap patients would face if they saw a particular doctor, because the fact both insurers and surgeons had multiple fees for each procedure made it “impossible to navigate”.
He urged doctors to follow the Australian Medical Association’s informed financial consent guide, to give patients accurate quotes detailing every item they can expect to see on their medical bill.
Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Rachel David welcomed the $17 million website funding, saying it was vital to give consumers more information but further reforms were needed to rein in “escalating health industry costs” that were driving up health insurance premiums.
A Health Department spokesman said the website “is not designed to provide consumers with individualised quotes” but would help patients “better understand the costs associated with their healthcare”.
“Specialists will be requested to provide information about their fees and charging policies including whether they participate in insurers’ known gap or no-gap arrangements,” the spokesman said. IT upgrades making it easier upload these details are expected to be completed in 2021.
Information on individual medical specialists’ fees from those who volunteered it would be uploaded shortly after this, the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said he would encourage doctors to participate.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.