Increase in surgery ‘migrants’: ‘I couldn’t understand why it would cost so much’

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

When Dave Crowden’s urologist confirmed he had prostate cancer in 2016, he was shocked when he was told state-of-the-art robotic surgery would come with a staggering $30,000 price tag attached.

While Mr Crowden could not afford the robotic radical prostatectomy surgery, he discovered fellow Bega Valley resident and friend Peter Haggar had been booked into a Melbourne hospital for the same procedure at no cost.

If you can get a referral to Melbourne, you’re getting expert doctors, covered by Medicare, with the same waiting list.

Peter Haggar

“I thought, ‘well hang on that’s a bit strange’, because I thought it is all covered by the public system,” the 63-year-old said.

“I assumed the surgery was standard practice, but I couldn’t understand why it would cost so much given it was just an overnight stay.

“It would’ve been a strong option for me if I could afford it.”

After conducting his own research into his options, he decided he was reluctant to go through with either open surgery, or robotic radical prostatectomy, despite his specialist recommending he go under the knife.

“The surgeons tend to say they have the ‘gold plated’ option, but the figures I looked at showed radio therapy has a similar success rate so I decided to have that done in Canberra,” he said.

“The failing of our health system is why it [robotic surgery] is so expensive.”

Meanwhile, Mr Haggar was advised by his specialist earlier this year to visit Melbourne for scans and biopsies, before being operated on by surgeons at the The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

For the same robotic surgery, unlike Mr Crowden, he was told it would incur no out-of-pocket cost.

“If you can get a referral to Melbourne, you’re getting expert doctors, covered by Medicare, with the same waiting list,” Mr Haggar said.

In May, Melbourne urologist Dr Declan Murphy said on social media he had seen “lots of 'economic migrants' fleeing to Victoria to avoid extortionate fees elsewhere”.

Mr Crowden said it’s just “luck of the draw” during one of life’s most difficult times.

In February, a committee, chaired by Commonwealth chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy, was set up by the federal government to investigate out-of-pocket costs and patient options.

“Large out-of-pocket fees charged by a relatively small proportion of medical specialists are a matter of justifiable and considerable community concern,” federal health minister Greg Hunt said. 

“For some patients, these fees can cause financial hardship.”

The committee will report back to Mr Hunt at the end of the year.