The ongoing value of Private Health Insurance

mmmwah! hearts

One of the biggest drivers of Aussies taking up private hospital cover is the health of the public hospital system – specifically planned (elective) surgery waiting times.

A key advantage of having private hospital cover is that you can get your planned surgery done in a private hospital with the doctor of your choice as soon as your doctor is ready (it’s usually very speedy).*

Private health insurance is designed to take the planned surgery load off the public system and it does this pretty well. 

Planned surgeries in public hospitals as a public patient naturally aren’t as urgent as emergency admissions and are prioritised accordingly (although planned surgeries do have clinically recommended timeframes to operate under). The private system is generally much faster. 

Waiting times for planned surgery in public hospital

There’s plenty of public hospital data to explore. We pay most attention to the movements in annual statistics.

The overall median (the midpoint) waiting period for planned surgery in public hospitals rose to 40 days in the year to 30 June 2018, up two days on the year before.

NSW residents may not be surprised to learn that their median waiting times are the highest in Australia, at 55 days (a rise from 54 days on 2017). Remember that half of all patients had to wait longer than that!

This wait can be hard for patients to bear and 20,000 odd patients in Australia left public waiting lists to be treated in private hospitals in 2018.

Cataract surgery, removing cloudy eye lenses that can occur in older people, was the most common public planned surgery in 2018 with 72,000 patients admitted. The median wait time for cataract surgery in public hospitals is 86 days (with half waiting longer than that).

Here are a few public hospital elective surgery waiting times in 2018. 

You could be waiting:*

  • 57+ days for a hysterectomy (up from 55 days in 2017)
  • 101+ to have varicose veins stripped (up from 90+ in 2017)
  • 119+ days for a total hip replacement (up from 110+ days in 2017)
  • 121+ days to have tonsils removed (up from 97+ days in 2017)
  • 198+ days or a total knee replacement (up from 195+ days in 2017)

And 50% of people will wait even longer than that.

With private health cover, you’ll be in hospital as soon as your doctor’s ready.

How does your local public hospital perform?

Visit My Hospitals to view the data on waiting times for surgery.

Illawarra members

If you live in the Wollongong area especially, those figures make for depressing reading. Wollongong Public Hospital reported a median of 341 days for total hip replacement and 362 days for total knee replacement in the year to 30 June 2018. Sobering stuff. It might be a good idea to keep your hospital cover, just quietly.


*Naturally you’ll need to have served your waiting periods and have inclusions on your cover for whichever hospital services your surgery is for.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Elective surgery waiting times 2017-18; Australian hospital statistics'