Exclusive: Only four specialists listed on Fed Govt fee site

Medical politics

By Geir O'Rourke

23 Feb 2023

The Federal Government’s specialist fee website is now actually displaying some specialists’ fees, albeit with seemingly only four doctors currently on board.

Almost four years after being announced by former health minister Greg Hunt, the cost finder site finally began accepting fee information from individual doctors in December 2022, including cardiologists, gastroenterologists and doctors from half a dozen surgical subspecialties and O&G.

But it appears the revamped database will remain of limited use to patients for the time being as there currently appears to be no listings for most services on the site.

The Department of Health says cardiologists can input their fees for 23 services including initial and follow-up appointments and a variety of procedures such as coronary angiography, heart catheterisation and stent insertion.

But while average out-of-pocket costs and bulk-billing rates are displayed – as on the previous version of the site – the limbic was unable to see any listings from individual cardiologists when we checked last week.

Instead the site comes up with a message that says: “No specialists have currently volunteered their fees”.

Likewise, participation from gastroenterologists appears to be limited as the limbic was able to find listings from only three – two of whom were in Melbourne and one in Tamworth, NSW.

How many doctors are on the site?

Specialty No. services agreed for inclusion No. doctors appearing on the site (17 Feb 23)*
Cardiology 23 0
Cardiothoracic surgery 12 0
Gastroenterology 7 3
Gen surgery -abdominal 20 0
Gen surgery – breast 11 0
O&G 21 1
Ophthalmology 28 0
Orthopaedic surgery 24 0
ENT surgery 6 0
Plastic surgery 24 0
Urology 13 0

*Based on searches for initial consultant physician or specialist consultations

The department has stressed it is “encouraging specialists to participate”, including by reaching out to specialist colleges, craft groups and the AMA, as well as setting up information stands at medical conferences and running webinars for potential participants.

The limbic tuned into one of these hosted by six health department officials on Thursday night, where we were the only audience.

Nevertheless, officials at the webinar defended the site, stressing the revamp was in its early days and exposure had been limited so far.

In addition, there was clearly some interest from the public, with the database already receiving about 6,000 hits per month, they said.

How do specialists get on the site?

Currently only fully qualified fellows from 11 specialties can upload their fee information onto the site, although the department says it is looking to add an additional five specialties in the near future.

Fees, including health fund gap arrangements, can be updated by the doctor themselves or designated staff members using an honesty system and will not be checked against Medicare billing information, officials said.

Besides that, doctors can input information about their qualifications, areas of expertise, experience and practice locations – a process which should take about 10 minutes in total, according to the webinar.

Options also exist for doctors to temporarily or permanently remove their details from the site.

Department of Health and Ageing statement

In response to questions, the health department declined to confirm how many doctors were on the site but provided the following statement:

“The enhanced Medical Costs Finder (MCF) was released on 8 December 2022. From this date, specialists can enter and publish fee and gap information against selected services to provide cost transparency for their patients.

Services are being added to the MCF through a staged rollout of specialties, commencing with: breast surgery, abdominal and gastrointestinal surgery, gastroenterology, urology, plastic surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, otolaryngology (head and neck surgery), ophthalmology, orthopaedic surgery, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery. Planning has commenced to engage additional specialties including anaesthesia, neurosurgery, neurology, oral and maxillofacial surgery and vascular surgery.

The Department has and continues to encourage specialists to participate in the Medical Costs Finder in a number of ways including engaging with leadership of craft groups and other key stakeholders including the Australian Medical Association and the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges, sharing information at medical conferences, distributing guidance through multiple channels (e.g. newsletters) and running webinar sessions that inform specialists and practice staff about the benefits to patients and how they can participate. We are also working with other organisations and networks such as private hospitals. These activities are in addition to the online resources and a contact centre to assist specialists and practice staff to register.”

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