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Public vs. Private Hospitals in Australia

Rachel Horan

Rachel Horan

May 19, 20213 minute read
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If you need to go to the hospital, you may be deciding between public hospital or private hospital treatment. In Australia, public hospitals are free for anyone who holds a Medicare card. Private hospitals, on the other hand, are privately operated.

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    In this article, we discuss the public and private hospital sectors and what the differences are to help you decide which one might be right for you.

    What is a public hospital?

    A public hospital is government-funded through Medicare, the national healthcare system in Australia. Any person with a Medicare number in Australia can be admitted to a public hospital at no cost.

    Medicare also covers part or the entire cost of other medical services. This includes GP and specialist appointments, mental health care services, other allied health services, and some medication approved under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

    Public hospitals are funded through the Medicare system. The Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS) is paid by Australian taxpayers that don’t have private health insurance and earn above a certain income.

    What is a private hospital?

    Private hospitals are run privately, meaning that they don’t receive their funding from Medicare. As a result, private hospitals charge their patients directly for any services they provide.

    Private health insurance can mitigate how much you spend on a private hospital stay, though you may still be out-of-pocket depending on your insurance policy. If you have private insurance, you can still choose to be treated in a public hospital. Additionally, you can choose to be treated as a private patient in a public hospital.

    What’s the difference between public hospitals and private hospitals?

    In general, a private hospital can provide you with more choice in terms of your treatment. While not possible in a public hospital, private hospitals allow you to be able to choose your own hospital, doctor or specialist, and the type of treatment you receive. Typically, private hospitals have shorter waiting times and you are more likely to be placed in a private room and have other extras that make your hospital stay more pleasant.

    While there is less freedom of choice with public hospitals, they are still considered to be of a high standard. According to Healthdirect, some public hospitals can have better medical facilities than private hospitals “and are usually equipped to handle more complex cases.” In addition, public hospitals are typically the go-to for emergencies or acute health issues. If you are taken to hospital in an ambulance, you will arrive at a public hospital.

    Should I use my private health insurance in a public hospital?

    If you are staying in a public hospital despite having private health insurance, you could choose to opt to be a private patient in a public hospital. This allows you to be treated by your own doctor (rather than whoever is on staff), allocated a private room (if there’s one available), and transferred to a private hospital if ongoing care is needed.

    Public hospitals vs. private hospitals: what are the differences?

    Below, we’ve put together a table to help you understand the differences between public hospitals and private hospitals in Australia:

    Private hospital Public hospital
    Accommodation Generally, you will stay in a private room (if there is one available and your insurance covers this). You could be in a shared or private room, depending on availability.
    Choice of doctor You have the option to choose your own doctor. You are treated by whichever doctor is available.
    Choice of treatment You can have the option to choose a specific type of treatment for a condition. You might have some options but, generally, you will receive the treatment recommended by your doctor.
    Costs The cost of your accommodation and treatment will either be partly or completely funded by your private health insurance provider. You may have to pay an excess depending on your policy. Free of charge (for clinically necessary treatment).
    Waiting periods Typically, you can avoid a long waiting list, though it will depend on your specialist and time of treatment. There can be long waiting times for elective and non-urgent surgery and treatments.

    So, which is better?

    In Australia, we are lucky to have not only great private hospitals but well-equipped public hospitals as well. The question of ‘which is better’ is based on your individual circumstances and treatment needs.

    If you have private health insurance and require a longer hospitalisation, you may feel more comfortable in a private hospital. However, if you are only in for a short stay, don’t have private health insurance, or can’t get the required treatment in a private hospital, a public hospital could be your best option. Either way, public hospitals and private hospitals can provide you with the care you need.


    Copyright © www.jacarandafinance.com.au Jacaranda Finance Pty Ltd ® ABN 53 162 078 195 Australian Credit Licence 456 404, Pawnbroking License Number 4221738. The information on this web-page is general information and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Information provided on this website is general in nature and does not constitute financial advice.


    Rachel Horan
    Rachel Horan

    Written by Rachel Horan

    Rachel Horan is a Content Writer for Jacaranda Finance. Rachel has previously produced content for Brisbane City Council, Black & White Cabs, and Clubs Queensland. She has a Bachelor of Mass Communication with Distinction from the Queensland University of Technology.

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