INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PRICE - 2GB BREAKFAST
Thursday, 18 January 2018
Topics: Turnbull Government’s reforms to keep private health insurance premiums affordable, Australia Day
The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, joins us on the line. Minister, good morning.
Good morning, Steve.
What’s the plan to keep more people privately insured? How are you going to do that?
So, there are two big things. Firstly, as you say, everybody wants to be able to understand what their private health involves by simplifying it so there are no surprises.
I think the big shock for many people is when they discover that something which they thought had been covered isn’t covered. So, we’re creating a really simple system – gold, silver, bronze, basic.
That will include a one page statement as to what’s in and what’s out, so as right from the outset and at any time you consult your private health, you can understand that.
The second is to continue to drive to keep premiums as low as possible. We’re likely to have the lowest increase in 17 years since 2001 off the back of the biggest reforms in over a decade. And that’s about providing better mental health access for people, taking a billion dollars out of costs, and also ensuring that we have very, very clear definitions. The simplification that we’re talking about.
But every dollar is extremely hard for families, so we’re just going to continue to drive it further, the lowest in 17 years but always looking to take pressure off.
The industry wouldn’t wear being tied to inflation?
Well, it’s a private industry. We don’t regulate the prices. What we can do is put enormous pressure on, which we’ve done, which is how we’ve got to the lowest since 2001.
But similarly, we try to take the pressure off. One of the big things that I want to work on is the problem of private patients in public hospitals where people have very legitimate needs but sometimes many of the public would have had experiences where you have state governments chasing people for their private health for items which should ordinarily be covered by the public system. That drives up the cost of the private health. It also drives up public waiting lists.
So, it’s a very unfortunate practice. Legitimate role for private patients in public hospitals but not for aggressively harvesting them. So, that’s the next big thing to work with the states and to push them on those practices because it blows out waiting lists and it drives up premiums.
It seems to me that the industry over the years has tried to make it as complicated as possible. I mean, whenever I’ve tried to report on private health insurance over the years it’s very difficult to explain to people exactly what they’re covered for.
Yeah. Well, that’s why this change, the simplification is absolutely necessary. Just too many people have had the experience that they get a shock, they get a surprise, they thought they were covered. And so…
But I’ve got top level, why wouldn’t I be covered for everything?
Well, what everybody should have is complete knowledge of what’s in and what’s not in. And there hasn’t been a simple one page process. There hasn’t been a categorisation into gold, silver, bronze, and basic. That’s the change that we’re making.
All of the insurers have agreed to do that for the first time. And to have common terms because I guess it’s a bit like mobile phone plans where you can have terms which just don’t stack up when you try to compare one policy with another, so as you can see your hips and knees are in or they’re out, and then everyone gets the choice.
Australians absolutely value their private health, so delivering the lowest change in 17 years is an important start but continuing to drive those costs down.
Interestingly, the Labor opposition has a proposal to strip away doctor choice for lower income people, and to drive up premiums by about 16 per cent. They won’t talk about it in those terms but that would take private health out of the hands of just hundreds of thousands if not millions of Australians.
Which just overwhelms the public system. And we’ve had its situation in the past where private health funds are charging 60-year-old women coverage for getting pregnant, for example. I mean, how do you put a stop to that sort of thing?
Well, that’s why we need for the first time – and I think it’s very important to say that – a major reform of the mandatory simplification of gold, silver, bronze, where we will expect every private health insurer for every policy to boil it down, to simplify it, and have it in a way that’s completely comparable, and so you can look at that and say clearly – I do need access for hips and knees, I don’t need access for pregnancy.
Just finally before you go – nice to speak with you – the Prime Minister yesterday called on Bill Shorten to come out and support 26 January as Australia Day. You’d repeat that call? Do we know where Bill Shorten stands on this national holiday?
No. Look, I strongly support Australia Day both as a concept and as the date. Deeply, strongly.
And the vast majority of Australians look at that and celebrate what we’ve achieved as a country. That’s why people want to come here from around the world because we’ve got an extraordinary country, always challenges.
Mr Shorten seems uncertain. He’s caught between the left-wing, the Green-wing, and the mainstream Australian view.
And it comes down to values. Either you know or you don’t know. Do you believe in the country and believe in what we’ve achieved?
Always with challenges, but Australia is one of the world’s great multicultural diverse societies.
More to do but boy, why is it that people want to come here from around the world? Because we’ve created something magnificent and worth celebrating.
Good on you, nice to talk to you, thanks a lot.