Australians are increasingly dipping into their superannuation accounts to pay for medical expenses including gastric banding and IVF.
Figures from the Department of Human Services reveal that in 2016-17, more than $290 million was rereleased from the superannuation system under compassionate grounds, up from $184 million in 2014-15.
Nearly three quarters of monies was released was on medical grounds, including treatment and transport, and about 15,000 Australians accessed their superannuation accounts to pay for medical bills according to a report released by Treasury.
In a radio interview, Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannan said the most common form of medical care sought by people dipping into their superannuation is bariatric surgery, a surgery which helps people lose weight.
"The fact is that there are a lot of Australians who are obese or morbidly obese, and they need this surgery to return to productive lives," he said.
While Gannan broadly supported the surgery, he said access to operations should be provided by the public hospital system, not superannuation funds.
"The truth is that, where appropriate, these operations should be provided by the public hospital system, and those Australians who don't have private health insurance shouldn't be tapping into their super where the operation is indicated," he said.
"We have a fabulous superannuation system that hopefully means that people are able to look after themselves later in life. It's not in anyone's interests for people to be emptying that in all but the most exceptional of circumstances."
In December 2017 Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O'Dwyer announced that Treasury will conduct a review of the rules governing the early release of superannuation benefits.
In a statement, Treasury said the rules governing early release of superannuation benefits have not changed substantially since 1997 and that they must ensure the arrangements remain fit for purpose.
The review, amongst other things, will cover issues around the early release of superannuation on compassionate and severe financial hardship grounds, and for victims of crime compensation.
Public submissions for the Treasury review into the early release of superannuation benefits close on February 12.