You may think that between health insurance and Medicare, all your medical expenses are covered. However, this isn’t always the case.
Let’s go into a bit more detail. When you are treated in a hospital, there is a ‘scheduled fee’ charged as outlined in the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) for each different Medicare Item Number. Medicare and private health insurance cover 100% of this scheduled fee, as well as the cost of your accommodation and theatre fees, provided you’re treated in a hospital that has an agreement with your Health Fund.
The medical gap is the amount above the scheduled fee that your specialist charges.
Take a hospital admission (as a private patient) for heart surgery, for example. You’ll notice in the graph above that Medicare covers part of your fee, and so does your private health insurance policy (PHI). In fact, if your doctor only charged the scheduled fee for your treatment, you might pay nothing!
In the example above though, this doctor charges more than the standard scheduled fee, and you need to pay the gap to make up the difference.
Medicare does contribute a significant amount towards your treatment, regardless of whether you have private health insurance or not. Here’s what Medicare will cover when it comes to treatment.1
In many cases, yes! If you’re privately insured, get in touch with your health fund and ask for a list of healthcare professionals (e.g. hospitals, doctors) with gap cover arrangements. If you’re treated by someone on the list, your treatment will have reduced or no out of pocket costs.
Some health funds have agreements with certain hospitals and doctors to help reduce your out-of-pocket costs. There are different types of gap cover schemes, a few examples are:
N.B. You may still need to pay your health insurance excess or co-payment.
Depending on your treatment, you may have multiple health professionals treating you. If they have their own fees, these might not all have arrangements with your insurer, which might mean you pay out-of-pocket expenses for some of your treatment.
There are some ways to avoid or reduce the gap payments you may face when receiving medical treatment. For example:
Keep in mind, you may still need to pay an excess or co-payment, depending on your policy and the treatment you’re receiving.
While the fees for treatments covered by Medicare are listed in the Benefits Schedule, doctors aren’t required to cap their prices and can charge prices above what Medicare and private health insurance will cover. This means you may be charged an out-of-pocket expense.
Prices vary between clinics and between doctors and they’re obligated to reveal these costs to you if you inquire about the doctor’s fees before you receive treatment.
There are multiple reasons why you may have to pay a gap payment. Those reasons could be:
Bulk billing is when a doctor or healthcare professional doesn’t charge you for treatment but sends the medical bill direct to Medicare. Bulk billing can cover some GP visits, x-rays, pathology tests and eye tests that meet a certain criteria.
No, an excess payment isn’t the same as a gap payment. An excess payment occurs when you make a claim on your health insurance for treatments covered by your policy. This means you may have to pay an excess payment and gap payment if you have private health insurance.
You agree to this excess amount when you take out a policy, but you may have the option of choosing your excess.
No, you can’t claim tax back on medical expenses. Australians used to be able to claim their net medical expenses when submitting tax refunds. However, this tax offset was phased out in the 2018-2019 financial year after being reduced to cover disability aids, aged care and attendant care expenses.
Whether you’re after a hospital policy or an extras policy to cover out-of-hospital treatment, private health insurance can help reduce your expenses for private care, provide more choices for treatment, and give you peace of mind. However, it can be difficult to know which policy is a smart purchasing decision.
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