Aotearoa's Disgraceful Medical 'Scrapheap'

Radio New Zealand recently reported on the growing difficulty New Zealanders are experiencing in trying to get access to treatment for the most common of operations, such as knee & hip replacements.

Figures from the District Health Boards show that 13 or the 20 DHBs are making it tougher to get hip & knee surgery. Between 2012 and 2015, five DHBs (Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Lakes, Tairawhiti & Waikato) raised the CPAC threshold by 20 points or more.

Because they’re not ‘life-threatening’, these treatments are doled out on a points system (CPAC).  (See http://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/data-references/code-tables/national-booking-reporting-system-code-tables/cpac-scoring-system-code-table)

I have a friend who had personal experience of this. At age 58, he was a chef and had struggled with a dodgy hip for some years. When he sought treatment from his local Public Hospital, the Consultant asked how far he would walk in a day of work. He replied that it was probably around 3 kilometres.

Result? His treatment was ‘deferred’ (read ‘denied’) because he could still work a 50 hour week. Believe me, he was in pretty constant pain, but he didn’t ‘overplay’ it at the assessment. So, he could not even get on the Waiting List. Having no medical insurance, he & his wife finally elected to raise a $20,000 mortgage to have the treatment done privately. There was no other option.

He was fortunate enough to be able to raise the necessary cash - but what if that is NOT an option? Someone is suffering with decreased mobility and living in constant pain but doesn’t qualify for public treatment, despite paying tax for 40 plus years? This is iniquitous, but it’s now the reality of our Public Health System.

RNZ's Katherine Ryan was talking to Philip Bagshaw of the Canterbury Charity Hospital (http://charityhospital.org.nz/) which relies almost solely on donations and their volunteer medical staff work for nothing (pro bono work from medical specialists & nurses). The Charity Hospital offers free treatment to those who would otherwise live in pain, having been denied treatment under the CPAC system, and who don’t have medical insurance or any other means to fund the treatment.

Mr Bagshaw explained that more and more people are being kept off surgery waiting lists to make the national figures look ‘better’. He went on to explain that public hospitals now simply won’t treat hernias. Not offered. Get it done privately. Tough cheese.

So, given this reality of our Public Health System, it surely makes sense, if you can afford it, to have at least a basic private medical insurance plan. There’s plenty of providers to choose from and a myriad of options within each offering. So, to cut through the confusing detail, you really should deal with an experienced insurance adviser.

If you already have a medical plan, have it checked out against the current market - both in terms of benefits & cost. Many older policies can have a lot of hidden limits and excesses that are not initially obvious. Always get advice on your insurance plans.

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