How much does it cost to stay in hospital in Australia?

Finance Writer · 23 December 2019
Any time a patient is admitted to a hospital there are different costs involved, but what are these and who foots the bill? We look at the expenses involved in both public and private hospital care and highlight which ones you may need to be prepared to pay.

What is the cost of staying in a public hospital?

Australian public hospital treatment is free to Australian and New Zealand citizens, as well as most permanent residents and people from countries with reciprocal agreements, thanks to the Medicare scheme. As long as you hold a Medicare card you are unlikely to face any out-of-pocket expenses during your stay as a public patient. This is no small benefit when you consider that in 2014-2015 the average cost across “major public hospitals” to treat an acute admitted patient was $4,680, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Acute admitted patients include people who are admitted for childbirth, surgery, or other diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

According to the Department of Health, Medicare covers all of the costs of public hospital services for public patients in Australia, including:

  • Treatment by doctors, specialists and nurses
  • Accommodation and food
  • Tests and examinations including x-rays and blood tests (pathology)
  • Eye tests carried out by an optometrist
  • Surgeries and other therapeutic procedures performed by doctors
  • Certain necessary dental surgeries
  • Some allied health services (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, chronic disease management)
  • Medication prescribed in hospital.

It’s important to note that in most cases, Medicare will not cover the cost of ambulance services and the cost of this will differ depending on which state or territory you are in. For example, the ambulance service in Queensland is fully subsidised by the Queensland Government, making it free for local residents, whereas in Victoria, residents who use the service may be out of pocket unless they have an Ambulance Victoria membership or a health insurance policy that provides cover for ambulance services.

During your stay as a public patient in a public hospital you will generally be in shared accommodation, though sometimes there may be a single room available.

hospital cost stay public
Source: fonok (Shutterstock)

What is the cost of staying in a private hospital?

The cost of staying in a private hospital can depend on a few factors, including the specific fees set by the hospital and the doctors and specialists who treat you.

As a private hospital patient, you can still access Medicare, which can cover 75% of your hospital and medical fees as long as the treatment is listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), which outlines which medical services are eligible for a rebate. However, note Medicare will only pay 75% of the Schedule fee (the amount the government assigns to each service), so you will be required to foot the remaining 25%, plus any additional fees your doctors and other health professionals may charge.  Medicare generally won’t cover accommodation costs, medicines and theatre fees if you’re a private patient.

If you have private health insurance, you can check how much you can claim back for a hospital stay and treatment by health professionals, which may vary depending on the level of cover and any excess (the amount you pay your insurer when making a claim) you have.

On top of the fees listed above, patients in a private hospital may also have to pay for:

  • intensive care
  • dressings and bandages
  • blood tests, x-rays or CT scans
  • specialists’ fees.

Additionally, if you spend time as a patient in an emergency department in a private hospital, you may have to pay extra fees for some services not covered by Medicare.

If you have private health cover, it can be important to contact your health insurer and check your product disclosure statement (PDS) to clarify which tier of hospital cover you have, as this will determine your minimum coverage for hospital treatments. As an example, if you are admitted for surgery on your tonsils, your treatment will generally be covered by a policy that offers at least the Bronze tier of cover, although you may have to pay an excess and/or serve a waiting period before you can claim. On the other hand, if you have a Basic-tier policy that doesn’t cover this treatment, you could be out of pocket for the total difference between the MBS-listed price for it and what the hospital charges.

Staying in a public hospital as a private patient

If you are admitted to a public hospital, you may still be asked if you would like to be registered as a private or public patient. If you choose to be a private patient, you may receive additional benefits such as free internet and movie channels, access to a single room and your choice of doctor (provided they are available), depending on the hospital.

The cost of staying in a public hospital as a private patient follows the same structure as the costs listed above for a private hospital, where Medicare will generally cover 75% of the MBS fee for eligible treatments and your health insurance policy could potentially cover the rest, usually minus an excess (depending on your policy). Again, it can pay to clarify the extent of your cover with your health insurance provider, and the costs charged by the hospital for a private patient to help you determine whether you will be out of pocket.

How to prepare for the costs of staying in hospital

If you are planning an admission to hospital, it can be a good idea to check with your doctor, specialist or the hospital administration staff about the costs involved with your stay. If you choose to stay in a private hospital, you may want to ask about their fees per day and what they include.

You could also check what private health cover you have and if any waiting periods (an amount of time set by your insurer between when you take out a policy and when you can claim for certain services), exclusions, benefit limits or excesses may apply. It could also pay to understand what you are covered for with your private health insurance policy, so you can make an informed decision if you are offered the choice between being admitted to a public or private hospital.

The table below displays some of our referral partners’ hospital policies for a 30-year-old single female seeking cover in NSW without pregnancy cover. The table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) followed by provider name (alphabetical). Use Canstar’s health insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of products. Canstar may earn a fee for referrals.

Katie Rodwell CanstarAbout Katie Rodwell

Katie brings over 20 years of writing experience and prepares a range of articles for the Canstar website. She began her career in London and has worked in senior communications and content development roles in Australia, throughout Asia, Europe and Latin America. She has studied media and languages with the London School of Public Relations, the National University of Mexico and taken further professional development courses with Curtin University in Western Australia.

Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Cover image source: Tyler Olson (Shutterstock)


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