Victoria's cash-strapped public hospitals are making an increasing amount of money from privately paying patients, causing concern some ''private patients'' could be jumping public waiting lists or getting other favourable treatment.
As the Victorian Auditor-General, John Doyle, prepares to investigate private patient fees in public hospitals this year, audit figures show Victorian public hospitals earned $719 million from private patients last financial year, up nearly 18 per cent from $611 million in 2011-12.
The surging income from health insurers and individuals paying their own way for care is causing concern that ''private patients'' could be jumping queues for surgery and other procedures or getting superior treatment in private rooms, for example, when all patients are meant to be treated equally under the national healthcare agreement, irrespective of their ability to pay.
Over the past decade, public hospitals have actively asked people about their private health insurance status because if patients opt to use their policy, the hospital receives insurance payments above and beyond government payments received for public patients receiving the same care.
In its annual plan for 2014, the Auditor-General's office said it would assess patient fee collection in Victoria's 87 public hospitals, ''examining governance and oversight, policies and procedures, management practices, and also assessing against better practice''.
The plan comes after Mr Doyle wrote in his most recent financial audit of hospitals that ''in tight economic times, public hospitals are under increasing pressure to fund their operations from sources other than government funding.''
The Consumers Health Forum says rising numbers of ''private patients'' in public hospitals are concerning when waiting lists for some public health services are continuing to grow.
''It does raise concerns that privately insured patients may be able to get treatment ahead of public patients with similar or greater needs,'' said Mark Metherell, a spokesman for the group.
Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said he believed Victorian hospitals were trying to raise revenue any way they could to make up for shortfalls in government funding.
''The question needs to be asked: are public patients missing out in favour of those who can afford to pay?'' he said.
The issue comes after it emerged that Victoria's new Comprehensive Cancer Centre may include a 50-bed floor for private patients, including those with insurance and medical tourists seeking world-leading care, such as access to clinical trials of cutting-edge drugs or procedures.