Big push for free hospital transport
There is a push to give all Australians free emergency ambulance treatment. Photo: Quentin Jones
All Australians would be entitled to free emergency ambulance treatment and transport under a proposal to ensure people do not delay calling paramedics because of concerns about big bills.
Health groups, including the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, will launch on Wednesday a campaign for ambulance services to be made a free health entitlement, similar to public hospital treatment.
Queensland and Tasmania offer free ambulance services but in the ACT patients without private health insurance cover can be hit with bills starting from $831 for treatment and transport.
Consumers Health Forum chief executive Carol Bennett said a Heart Foundation survey had found that one-third of people without ambulance cover would delay dialling triple-0 in an emergency if they were having a heart attack because of cost concerns.
Ms Bennett said free ambulance services should be required under the national health agreement between the federal government and states and territories.
"The principles underpinning that agreement are supposed to be universal access to healthcare, which gives them equity of access and that includes cost,'' Ms Bennett said.
She said providing a free ambulance service could help control health costs because people who received prompt emergency care were less likely to require more expensive acute services.
Private health insurance funds offer ACT residents ambulance cover, and ACT pensioner concession and healthcare cardholders receive free emergency ambulance services within the territory.
A road rescue fee levied on vehicle registration funds the free ambulance services for ACT residents travelling in motor vehicles, and in some circumstance workers' compensation covers services provided as the result of a workplace accident.
Fees for the uninsured are $577 for emergency treatment not including transport, or $831 plus $11 for every kilometre travelled outside the ACT.
ACT Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell said on Tuesday any overhaul of ambulance financing should be done on a national basis.
"I'm supportive of a national approach in relation to financing of ambulance services. If it was financed through the tax system or through Medicare I think that would be a very positive approach,'' he said.