FIVEaa interview with Leon Byner
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Topics: Public hospitals incentivising patients to use their private health insurance
Let’s talk to Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Greg, what’s your approach to this?
Well the first thing is I’m very concerned. And the reason why is you have some states who are effectively driving up the costs of premiums for those people who are doing the right thing and have private health insurance and many others who would want to have private health insurance.
Secondly, for the public health patient, it increases the waiting list. And thirdly, exactly as you’ve set out, for many they find themselves with an unexpected, unwanted and really difficult to manage gap payment and that’s not what this system was intended for.
So I’ve taken it up directly with the states and I want to speak directly to the public and say, you do not have to hand over your private health insurance details if you are in a public hospital. Do not feel intimidated. Do not feel pressured.
Look, what’s the situation, because I had a lot of comments on social media yesterday which, as soon as we raised this, and the private health funds reckon this could be adding 11 per cent to the cost of their premiums. But the states argue they are legitimately doing this, are they?
They’re legally doing it, unless they are being deceptive. Now, whether or not it’s the appropriate thing. I have written to all of the state health ministers.
In some cases they are deliberately trying to, not just ask people, but to coerce people into handing over their private health insurance details without adequate exposure of the fact that there’s a real chance of significant out-of-pocket cost, or without explaining that this could add to the cost of private health premiums the more they do it.
And the other losers of course are the general public patients who aren’t in a position to afford private health insurance.
And their waiting lists are put under more pressure as people on private health insurance are brought in ahead of them. So it’s a lose on every front, but it’s being done to bolster state budgets in a way which simply isn’t appropriate.
Alright. Can’t you change the law to stop them from doing that?
No. There’s no legal approach at the federal level because it’s done under the state law, but there is what’s called the Council of the Australian Government health ministers meeting, I’ve not just raised it, I’ve taken action through that.
And we also want to say around the country if you are a private patient, you simply do not have to give over your details.
Because premiums go up, people drop out, you know, the risk of dropping out of private health insurance and in the end that puts more pressure on the public health system.
So it’s a short-term practice but with a long-term consequence.
So just to be clear, the Federal Minister for Health tells South Australia today that if you are a private patient and you are then approached whilst you are in hospital, which generally is the case and you are told, make a donation to equipment, or look, don’t use your credit card for a TV or a newspaper, give us your private health number and then they take out other costs that you’re not being told and you may then well be hit with a gap payment.
Now if somebody is fully informed and they know what the gap costs are and they choose for their own reasons because their particular surgeon might be operating out of a public hospital and they want a private bed, that’s a matter for them.
However, what’s happening here is exactly as your listeners have said, they are getting a huge shock, they are getting a big bill shock which they weren’t warned about.
And so there has to be full public disclosure and you have a right, you have a freedom, you have the ability not to be coerced, if you’re listening, into handing over your private health details to the state.
Liberal states are doing this as well, it’s just about everybody. So what are you going to do to stop this practice where basically they’re misleading their patients?
So there are two big things here. First, is to not take advantage of people who are unwell and vulnerable. So the issue of either deceptive or simply covert practices, that I have already taken up with the states.
The second is to look at the whole issue of the systemic effect on waiting lists and on premiums. And I’ve also asked for work to be done, which in the second half of the year we will take up with the states.
But in the meantime the most important message, and you’re right, whether it’s a Liberal state or a Labor state, no matter where it is, the most important message to your listeners and to the public generally is you have the right not to give over your details.
What have you said to Jack Snelling about this?
Well this is exactly the discussion I had with all of the state ministers and Jack was there …
How did they react to this, what did they say when you told them about this?
Look, there was pushback from some. There was a sort of a quiet acknowledgement from a couple of them.
And the overall context here is you’ve got a Coalition which generally, overwhelmingly supports private health insurance and Labor which historically has had a very lukewarm approach to private health insurance and federal Labor which simply hates private health insurance.
Tanya Plibersek posted on targeting private health insurance as soon as they came out of government recently.
So they literally targeted private health insurance whereas we want to make it more affordable. So I’ll let Jack Snelling speak for himself, but I hope he commits to taking pressure off rather than putting pressure on private health insurance premiums.
Greg Hunt, what about if you go into emergency and they ask you if you’ve got private health insurance and can they please take your number?
Well in emergency there should be absolutely no triage or priority given to people based on whether they do or don’t have private health insurance.
Interesting you say that because the feedback that we’re getting is that when people in some cases give up their number, they do it because they’re told they’ll get in quicker.
I would love to get something from just one of your listeners on that because that would be an absolute breach of the way in which our hospitals should be running where the primary, the single determinant of priority in emergency is need.
That’s absolutely what it should be. And if they are allowing people to, or coercing people to give over their details in order to push others down the waiting list in an emergency department that would be a fundamental breach of the highest medical duties.
Greg Hunt, thank you, Federal Minister for Health.