In 2007, during his second year of Colts football, Matthew Crommelin had a catastrophic mid-air collision that tore his ACL and damaged parts of his knee.
Doctors had no choice but to operate.
“I had the complete knee reconstruction to my left knee using a patellar tendon graft, which was a successful surgery, although my knee was left less than perfect, even after rehab,” he says.
After avoiding football for five years or so, Matthew made the decision to have another kick.
“I played the full season in 2011 and in our grand final, with 10 minutes remaining of the game, I injured my right knee.”
Scans showed he had torn his ACL and another reconstruction was needed, this time to the other side.
Once recovered, Matthew managed to play consecutive seasons without any re-injury to either of his knees. He even got through a snowboarding trip in New Zealand unscathed in 2017.
However, Matthew believes the strain of snowboarding significantly weakened the supporting muscle around his knees and it was only a matter of time until he was under the knife again.
“In July 2017, following this trip, I picked up the ball, stepped left, and reinjured my left knee, tearing the left ACL again and yet another surgery was required,” he said.
Surgery on your terms
Matthew had private health insurance with HBF when his injuries struck and was able to book in for surgery quickly and with little fuss.
“On all three occasions I could have had surgery immediately,” he said.
“However, I delayed it until it best suited me and my schedule.
“I got to choose my own surgeon, which was really important because I chose someone who was recommended to me and had done work on my grandfather.
And since I had to keep going back for more surgeries I was relieved to keep going to someone who knew my history.”
A common cut
There were 3662 claims for knee reconstructions in the five years up to 2017 for HBF members aged 18-35.
Qualitative data collected by private health networks Ramsay Health Care and St John of God showed those patients with private health insurance waited 2-4 weeks between the decision to treat with surgery and admission to hospital.
This wait time was in addition to the average wait-to-wait of 2-3 weeks in the private system.
Related: Is private health insurance right for you?
What about the public system?
While Matthew was able to undergo surgery on his terms each time his knee gave way, public patients face a significant wait before going under the knife.
The ‘wait-to-wait’, which we explain in detail here, is the time a patient waits between first presenting to a GP and their first visit with a specialist. This is 8.78 months on average in the public system.
Multiple specialist visits may be required before a decision is made to treat with surgery and the public patient is placed on the elective surgery waiting list.
The national median waiting time for elective surgery in Australia is 38 days, but data shows patients will generally wait longer for a knee reconstruction in WA.
Knee reconstruction median wait times
in key metro and regional WA hospital 2016-17
About this data: This data represents the time within which 50 per cent of patients were seen. The remaining 50 per cent of patients would have waited longer than this time to access elective surgery.
A return on investment
For Matthew, who underwent three knee reconstructions before turning 30, private health insurance has proved a worthy investment.
“All I had to pay was the cost of the anaesthetic and to upgrade to a private room,” he said.
“If I didn’t have insurance, I think I would have been out of pocket for more than $20,000.”
Read about public & private waiting times in our full report
HBF releases public & private wait times report
How long will you wait for elective surgery?