A SKYROCKETING number of Australians are raiding their superannuation early to pay for medical bills including for weight loss surgery and IVF.
In 2000-2001, $42 million of early super was released compared to $290 million in 2016-17.
Four thousand Australians had applied for early release super on medical grounds in 2010-11 and that’s grown to 15,000 in 2016-17.
Acting federal treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer said the rules hadn’t been changed for 20 years and the government was undertaking a review which will report back in early 2018.
She said it was important to strike a balance between showing compassion and protecting retirement savings.
“Of course, we want to make sure that people have access to their money where it is appropriate,” Ms O’Dwyer told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.
IVF and weight loss surgery were among the top reasons for people dipping into their super to pay for health bills.
Australian Medical Association President Michael Gordon said Australia’s superannuation system was never designed to be a safety net for the health system.
Dr Gannon said the majority of bariatric surgery patients who dipped into their super had been told there were no public weight loss services or the waiting list to access them was two or three years.
He said there are grossly inadequate bariatric services in Australian public hospitals.
“Things like weight loss surgery, things like infertility are highly emotive, we’re talking about vulnerable patients,” he told reporters in Perth.
“What we don’t want is vulnerable patients being taken advantage of in a system and making financial decisions they might regret in the future.”
Consumers Health Forum chief executive Leanne Wells said actual medical fees far outstrip the benefits paid by Medicare and even when people have health insurance, they can still face gaps of thousands of dollars.
“High out of pocket costs, running into thousands of dollars for many patients, are contributing to the widening gap of two-tiered medicine where access to medical treatment is dependent on your means rather than need,” she said.
Public submissions for the Treasury review into the early release of superannuation benefits close on February 12.
The government is also separately reviewing out-of-pocket health care costs.