Transcript - ABC Melbourne interview with Rafael Epstein
Friday, 10 February 2017
Topics: Lowest health insurance premium increases in a decade
Greg Hunt is the Health Minister in Malcolm Turnbull’s Federal Government. Minister, good afternoon.
Good afternoon, Raf.
Is this going to scare people away from private health?
Look, this is the lowest increase in a decade, it’s lower than any of the years under the ALP. It’s 4.8 per cent, and that is important because every dollar matters to every family.
So I’ve spoken with the CEOs of not just the five big insurers that represent over 80 per cent of premium holders, but also with the heads of the two private health insurance organisations, and they have all committed to work with me on trying to drive down premiums further.
They would have increased significantly but for a major Commonwealth reform which took half a billion dollars out of the cost of what’s called prosthetics, or implants.
So we just have to keep going. It’s the lowest in the decade, but I think we can do better again, and I know how important these costs are to families.
Look, I understand it’s a slow and complicated grind, but we do know privately there’s a decline in payouts for dental, chiropractic, physiotherapy and optical.
And publically people are going to have to pay maybe not much more, and every budget saving’s important but publically there are cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging, that can mean people have to pay more for those tests.
If you’re public or private you’re being squeezed more and more, aren’t you?
Look, I am absolutely committed to doing what we’ve done here and driving it down to the lowest change in a decade, so way back over a decade, right through all of the previous government’s period.
One thing we’re not going to do is what they did where they ripped $4.5 billion out of private health insurance, which made it harder.
There are about 13.5 million Australians who have private health insurance, and for them every dollar matters.
So the big thing now is to put more downward pressure on private health insurance premiums, and to do that by working with the private health sector, and I’m pleased that the five CEOs have made that commitment and the two major organisations.
Now, I also want to work with the states, to work collaboratively, because the more people in private health, the more choice they have and the lower average impact on people.
Can I ask you about public hospitals? But just let me explain, people might not be aware you can go a lot of the time to a public hospital, yet have that cost covered by a private health fund.
It’s clear that that is happening in some circumstances. Can I just ask you about that, though, Minister? Why are you blaming the states for doing that?
Is that not an indication that you’re not giving public hospitals the funding increases they need?
I know that the ALP has said that …
Well, the Hospital Association in Victoria also said it today.
In almost exactly those words, but what’s actually happening is hospital funding is going up from 17 billion, to 18 billion, to just over 20 billion, to over 21 billion over each of the current four year periods.
Medicare funding is also going up from 22, to 23, to 24, to 25 billion from the Commonwealth. So it’s actually going up very significantly this year …
I said it wasn’t going up as much as they need.
Well, this is actually on a rate which was the same rate that had been the case throughout the vast bulk of the ALP’s period in government.
There’s a formula of 45 per cent of efficient growth. What does it mean? It means the billion dollars extra of Commonwealth money, which of course is the public’s own money, going into state private hospitals, and a billion dollars extra a year of Commonwealth money going into Medicare.
So each is going up each year, and they’re two separate lines of funding, and so enormous investment in those areas.
At the same time, what we’re seeing is the reforms to really put the pressure on private health insurance, and unfortunately one of the biggest impacts on private health insurance costs is this practice in some of the states of trying to have private health insurance customers or patients pay and sign their funds up to cover the public hospital cost …
I understand, but can I return to that original question, Minister? You’re not, I mean, in your own budget papers, Joe Hockey’s first budget, it says in that budget paper you’re not giving the same increase as Labor was going to give.
It’s a bit rich, isn’t it, to criticise the hospitals or the states for not giving enough money, when you’re the one not giving them as much as they need.
No, no. With respect, as I say, it’s going up by a billion dollars a year using the same formula that was in place for the vast bulk of the Labor period.
They made an unfunded pledge at the end of their time in government, and then, for example at the last election, for all their claims they then had to drop $55 billion that they had previously been saying they’d add. In the end their own money evaporated and [inaudible] …
Can I strip the politics out of it a little though, Minister Hunt?
Yeah, no, very happy to.
You are critical of the states for encouraging the public, their public hospitals, to draw from the private health funds.
Doesn’t that mean, I mean, you’d only encourage that if you were a public hospital if you didn’t have enough money, no?
But the reason why it’s an issue is because it actually increases the waiting times for public health patients for those who don’t have private health insurance.
So many of those who are really doing it most tough and are most in need because of this practice end up having to wait longer for procedures.
So my real concern is that in some states, and because of the practice, and there is talk that there are even targets in some states, it means that the public patients have to wait longer for their procedures.
And so the more that we can encourage people into private health, the more that we can keep our private health insurance premiums down, because every single dollar matters to families, then the more we can actually reduce waiting times for public patients, those who simply aren’t in a position to afford private health insurance.
Greg Hunt is the Health Minister. Every Health Minister tries to keep those premiums down. What do you make of the Government’s efforts? 1300 222 774 is the phone number.
We all struggle with that, plus the extras. But Minister, can I ask you a question outside of your portfolio?
The Q Society, which is a fairly far right group, a very anti-Islamic group, they say they have big problems with Islam.
They’re doing a fundraiser, and like whatever, it’s a free society and free speech is a wonderful thing, but George Christensen is going to be attending one of their fundraisers.
At one of their fundraisers last night there were some really offensive things, saying if I can read a few of them to you, I’m just interested if you think it’s a problem that a government representative is there.
Let’s be honest, I can’t stand Muslims. If they are in the same street as me, I start shaking. But they’re not all bad, and forgive the language here, they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings.
There’s some really offensive stuff going on at these Q Society dinners. Should one of your government colleagues be going to that sort of function?
Look, I have to confess it’s a body I’ve never heard of until this moment. The comments that you’ve read, I frankly disagree with.
I don’t like them at all. As to the broader society, who said it, whether that’s the society officially, because I’ve never heard of them prior to this moment, I wouldn’t make a response. But on those particular comments, I couldn’t reject them more categorically.
I suppose I’m interested in at what point can an MP in your party go to something before you object. George Christensen has addressed a Reclaim Australia rally, he’s going to be going to support a Q Society fundraiser. They are virulently anti-Islamic. At some point does that make you feel uncomfortable?
Look, I can only tell you what our position is and my position is, and that’s a genuine commitment to multiculturalism, a genuine commitment to being an ecumenical country where people can follow the religion of their choice.
That’s the position of myself, a deep, fundamental belief, and that’s the position of the Government.
One more try, if I can, Minister. Someone else there made snide references to the Sydney Morning Homosexual, and joked that the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party is basically a gay club.
Well, I think those comments are equally wrong.
I suppose I’m asking are there meetings that you don’t want your colleagues to go to.
I disagree with those comments, and I would equally reject them categorically.
Okay. Thanks for your time.