The public is outraged at new reports showing that foreigners are leaving the country without settling their medical bills and, to date, they have an unpaid bill that amounts to $40 million. The figure shouldn’t come as a surprise to the authorities because foreigner’s medical bills have been rising steadily as they have made progressively more frequent use of public hospitals.

Pressure on the local system is climbing as tourists, workers and foreign students are using public hospitals for elective surgery procedures, treatment of minor ailments and to give birth. Over the course of the last year foreigner patients who do not qualify for Medicare have amassed $40 million which has resulted in states calling for stricter restrictions and border control and more heavily regulated use of the system. 2

It is a prerequisite for all student visa holders to have private health insurance when they enter the country but questions have been raised over whether this requirement is being implemented and whether visa holders actually have sufficient cover when they arrive.

Over the last four years the number of patients who are ineligible for Medicare has more than doubled making things harder for administrators to cope with the increase in demand and to handle the budget restrictions of the commonwealth.

The consequences of this data being released is that health officials and state health ministers will try and convince Tanya Plibersek to initiate reforms namely banning foreigners from re-entry if they have unpaid bills on record, stricter enforcement of health insurance requirements and doing away with waiting periods so that foreigners are incentivised to make use of the private health system.

The state submitted data that showed public hospitals had been unsuccessful at reclaiming 40% of fees that had been charged to patients who were ineligible for Medicare last year. Over 50% of people admitted were to emergency departments and the majority were for potentially life threatening or potentially serious cases but there were a high number of elective and maternity admissions. Maternity service demand is one area that has increased significantly since 2007.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis spoke out saying that the commonwealth had not implemented the appropriate arrangements for public hospitals to be reimbursed in these cases. The spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship could not confirm of there had been any cancelled visas as a result of someone not having the relevant health insurance prior to travel.

The spokesman did say that local health services and public hospitals had legal duty of care to provide treatment for anyone who needed urgent care, a duty that also extends to those with temporary visas, whether they have Medicare or not.

And, as we are at the end of March, it is nearly 01 April which means that health insurance premiums will increase automatically for everyone around the country. This year the increase is 5.6% and last year’s increase was 5.56% so it is quite on par. This year’s increase will amount to about $200 per year for most people.

Insurance providers have responded quite differently to the news with average increases between providers dropping as low as 3.23% and going as high as 6.81%. The disparities are not as high as they were last year however, when they ranged between 2% and 15% in price range.

Those who want to avoid the increase and pay last year’s insurance premium rates do have one way to save themselves some money but they will need a decent amount of money to do that. If you pay for a full year’s premiums before the rate increase comes into effect on 01 April you will still be charged at the current year’s rate.

By Jasmina