Breast reconstruction is a procedure that aims at recreating the breast after having undergone mastectomy. The operation is viewed as a medical procedure and not cosmetic surgery. For women in Australia who choose this method of treatment, services are available in both the public as well as the private health sector.
Breast reconstruction services in the public sector:
The public health system in Australia provides free-of-cost breast reconstruction services to all patients. The patient’s surgeon or breast care nurse can make referrals to a location that offers this facility. To avail the service in a public hospital, the patient will need to be seen by a medical practitioner who works in the public sector or else if the surgeon only practices in the private sector, then a referral will need to be made to one who works in a public hospital.
Public hospitals cater to both immediate reconstruction as well as delayed reconstruction procedures. Women, who opt for immediate reconstruction after mastectomy, will have to make sure that their surgeon is either employed in the public sector or be referred in advance to one who does work at a public hospital.
For others who would like to postpone the treatment to a later date, their name will be put on the hospital’s waiting list. The wait time for reconstructive surgery can be up to two years or longer depending on location. To make sure that the patient has a good idea of how long it might take for the procedure to happen, inquiries regarding the wait list and times at the chosen hospital can be made. If the proposed wait times are too long for the patient, further inquiries can be made to find a hospital where the wait list is shorter.
Patients also have the option of putting their name on a hospital’s wait list and then think about whether they really want to go ahead with the procedure or not. Sometimes women may decide that reconstructive surgery is not for them; they can then have their name removed from the list without any obligation.
Breast reconstruction services in the private sector:
Similar services are also available in the private health sector but the expenses can really add up. For some patients who have chosen to opt for treatment in private hospitals personal out-of-pocket expenses can amount to an exorbitant figure of $ 15,000.
When funded personally, the procedure of breast reconstruction may not be in everyone’s range. Therefore, it is best to first consult with your surgeon and anaesthetist and decide on a quote that is realistic and get it in writing. Some practitioners may be prepared to work out a more suitable financial arrangement and lower their proposed service charges.
If patients have access to health insurance, recommendations can be made for ‘gap cover’ arrangements with approved surgeons where the insurance company ends up paying the surgeon either partially or fully for the procedure. In such cases there are minimal or no out-of-pocket expenses for the patient.
1. Breast reconstruction: https://www.bcna.org.au/new-diagnosis/treatment/breast-reconstruction
2. Breast Cancer Network Australia Breast Care Nurse Breast Reconstruction Survey September 2011: http://www.bcna.org.au/sites/default/files/bcn_survey_report_20110922_0.pdf