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Dr Charlie Teo puts spotlight back on cost of specialists

By now most of us would have heard of brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, after Sydney urological surgeon Henry Woo tweeted earlier this week about the “really disturbing trend” of patients using crowd-funding to pay for his treatments, sometimes up to $120,000.

Dr Teo appeared on the Today show with Georgie Gardner who asked him to explain, if the procedure he was offering was valid, why it was not covered by Medicare through the public system. He went on to explain the breakdown of fees and that private hospitals must make a profit.

What started off as a tweet has quickly grown into a full-blown debate about exorbitantly high surgeons’ fees and costs in the Australian healthcare system more broadly.

Dr Teo’s fees have previously been challenged by insurers and Medicare, according to an industry figure quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

According to Private Healthcare Australia CEO Rachel David, if a rebate was paid by Medicare, the hospital stay, intensive care and rehabilitation would normally be covered by insurance. “The funds will also pay ‘gap cover’ for the surgeon, assistant and anaesthetist, but this will be nowhere near the six-figure sums charged by Dr Teo as this would put too much pressure on premiums for other members,” said Dr David.

In March of this year, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that the Federal Government would be launching a website which will list feed and out-of-pocket expenses charged by individual specialists, following a report released by the government revealing concerns over doctors charging patients with hidden fees such as ‘administrative’ or ‘booking’ fees. Minister Hunt said that the website would be aimed at reducing the risk of “bill shock”.

Leanne Well, CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, said that “the challenge now will be to ensure that once it is introduced after consultation with consumers and doctors that all specialists use it.”

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