Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Transcript - 3AW Drive interview with Tom Elliott

Friday, 10 February 2017


Topics: Lowest health insurance premium increases in a decade

Mr Hunt, good afternoon.

Good afternoon, Tom.

Now, you’ve just approved a 4.8 per cent health insurance premium hike that we’ll get coming into letterboxes I think in April. Was that less than what the health funds demanded?

It is below what they originally proposed. I think some of them came down after the Government approached them a little earlier, and all up this is the lowest increase in ten years.

I understand every single dollar matters for every family. It’s the lowest in ten years, I want to drive it down further, and so I have spoken with the CEOs of all of the big five health insurers, as well as the heads of the two insurance organisations, and they’ve all committed to work to lower premiums further.

So the lowest in ten years, but every dollar matters so we’re going to go harder and further.

Okay, now an issue that’s emerged today, and I’ve had a number of calls on this, is a practice I was not aware existed, but where patients who go to public hospitals, like the Royal Melbourne or the Royal Children's Hospital, but who have private health insurance are often asked by those taxpayer-funded public hospitals to get the cost of their stay paid for by their private health insurance.

Now, is this right? Should this be allowed?

So, this is absolutely true, and I suspect many people wouldn’t even realise it happened.

I’ve had examples where the paper is put in front and says just please sign this, and so what’s occurring actually helps drive up the cost of premiums, but it also very significantly increases the public hospital waiting times for public patients. It means they are given less priority than those who are privately covered…

Is it a loophole? Because to me it just seems odd. In recent months we’ve had to take our daughter to the hospital twice.

Once just happened to be to a private hospital because it just happened to be nearby and she was bleeding badly from a cut, and I accepted that I’d pay a few hundred bucks and there was private health insurance, all the rest of it, and there was another time we went to the Royal Children’s, and we were never asked about our health insurance, and we just walked in and walked out and no money changed hands.

Why is a public hospital allowed to claim on your private health insurance?

So that’s the existing situation under the law. What’s new here is that some of the states, I am told, but I’m only two weeks into the role, have actually been encouraging and setting targets for bringing private health insurance patients into public hospitals.

And of course, an emergency department is there for everybody, it’s universal health, it’s as it should be, but what appears to be happening, and there was some very good investigative journalism on this today, is that at the state level, some states are effectively trying to cross-subsidise their hospital system by bringing the private health insurance patients in.

And A) it drives up the premiums, it’s the vast bulk of the element behind the current lowest-in-a-decade premium changes, but B) and I think even more significantly, it increases the waiting times for public hospitals.

So which states are doing this? I’ve seen figures, for example, that in New South Wales up to 40 per cent of public patients pay with their private health insurance, but in Victoria it’s a bit under 20 per cent. Who are the main offenders here?

So you do have New South Wales, you do have Victoria, you do have Queensland, and what I do want to get to the bottom of is whether or not there is a policy being driven by the state ministers, because that’s not how the system was intended.

Is there any evidence, though, that in an emergency room or at an admissions desk, if a patient admits they’ve got private health insurance they’re given preference over someone who does not, in a public hospital?

Now, in the emergency system I’m not aware of that. This is really about surgery. So emergency is as it should be, simply on the basis of need.

So when people arrive, and then they triage for need, I’m not aware, although it’s very early days, I’m not aware and I would be absolutely horrified if any of the states or hospitals were doing that, and I’d take that up [inaudible].

What about elective surgery? What about if someone wants, I don’t know, a hip operation like a hip replacement? It’s important but not life-threatening. Is that where a public hospital might move you up the list if you offered to pay with your private health insurance?

Correct, this is exactly what the private health insurers and some of the insurance organisations have indicated to me, and also the private hospital system has indicated.

So are you going to look into this or do something about it?

Absolutely, it’s one of the issues which I’ve already raised with one of the states, and I’ll be talking about this across the board.

Greg Hunt, thank you so much for your time.


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