Doorstop Hastings, Victoria
Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop Hastings, Victoria.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
17 January 2018
Topics: Turnbull Government’s reforms to keep private health insurance premiums affordable, abortion services in Tasmania, Australia Day, NBN
I think it’s important to provide an update on the progress of our private health insurance reforms, which we delivered in October.
Australians value their private health. It’s incredibly important in terms of choice of doctor, choice of medical facility and the ability for people to have peace of mind.
In October, we delivered the largest, most significant private health insurance reforms in over a decade and we are on track to deliver the lowest change to private health premiums in 17 years, since 2001.
The early guidance is that that is likely to be an approximately 3.9 per cent change. We will know more once the analysis has been done and all of the information has been received. But that’s the early guidance.
Every dollar matters to families, which is why we introduced a billion-dollar change and reduction in medical costs through better deals for medical devices and earlier access for families and patients.
It’s why we delivered an end to waiting times for mental health upgrades – fundamental for people who are young, who are in the family stage of life, or who are older.
It’s why we helped deliver fundamental change in terms of simplifying private health. People don’t want surprises. So this is something which is critical – reducing the pressure on the cost of private health insurance. The lowest change in private health insurance costs in 17 years, since 2001.
But there’s more to be done. There’s always more work, which is why we’ll be continuing to work with the private health insurers on additional steps and with other sectors of the medical profession and the hospitals profession.
So these are critical changes. They do compare with the Labor Party. They have a policy at the moment, which for lower cost policies and therefore in many cases those who are less able to afford higher coverage, would mean they wouldn’t be able to afford the doctor of their choice.
It would lead to a 16 per cent increase in the cost of private health insurance under Labor.
We love private health insurance. We believe in it. We believe in its value, which is why we’re delivering the lowest change in 17 years.
By contrast, the Labor Party has a policy to decimate private health insurance, which would take the choice of doctor out of the hands of so many Australians and lead to a 16 per cent increase in cost. Completely unacceptable and they should drop that policy immediately.
But we will continue to fight for families. We will continue to fight to give people the opportunity of accessing private health insurance and getting the best value for money with the lowest change in 17 years.
You say it’s the lowest rise in years, but it’s still twice the rate of inflation. Is that acceptable?
Well, we’ve been driving it down. Of course, this is always related to the actual cost of health. I note that, since we’ve been in Government, the states have received over 8 per cent increases per annum for the cost of their public hospitals, so this is less than half of the average cost over the last four years of public hospital increases paid by the Commonwealth to the states.
So what we’re doing is driving down the costs and continuing to drive them down. The lowest in 17 years – lower than any year under Labor.
And this compares with a 16 per cent increase, which would come if Labor implemented its policies of taking the choice of doctor out of the reach of those Australians who aren’t in a strong financial position.
Private health insurers are calling for an increase in the Medicare levy surcharge. They’re saying that high income earners should be penalised at the higher rate for not taking up cover. Do you agree?
Look, that’s not something that we’re proposing. It’s a proposal from them.
Our focus, at this stage, is taking the costs out of private health insurance and we’ve taken $1 billion out.
We’ll be providing discounts for under-30s of up to 10 per cent, which is incredibly important in bringing young people in and getting them to stay. And this is why we’re getting the lowest change in 17 years and lower than any year under Labor.
Is enough being done to simplify private health options available to Australians to make them more transparent?
So were moving to a once-in-a-generation simplification of private health insurance – a gold, silver, bronze and basic system.
This is critical. People don’t want surprises with their private health insurance and I’m determined that, on our watch, in our time, we make the changes which gives Australians of every age real understanding and no surprises in relation to their private health insurance when they most need that knowledge.
How concerned are you about the burden on the public health system from the declining number of people signing up for private health insurance?
Well, this is exactly why we need to take the pressure off families, off seniors, off young people who take out private health insurance because, if you don’t have the lowest change in 17 years, then private health becomes simply too expensive.
And when that happens, you won’t have people who are able to access private hospitals and specialists and then you’ll have a blowout in the waiting times of public hospitals.
So that’s why the Labor proposal, which would lead to a 16 per cent increase in private hospital costs, is utterly irresponsible and utterly unacceptable.
Can the average Aussie really afford this magnitude of premium hike?
Well, by delivering the lowest change in 17 years, we’re making real progress.
But on our watch, we will keep fighting and I will keep fighting to ensure that every family gets every dollar of value, because every single dollar matters right across the country to families.
We know that the more we can do means that more people can afford private health, and the more people who have private health, the better choice they have, the more security they have and the lower the pressure on the public hospital system.
I’ve just got a few on some other topics. Why won’t the Federal Government call on Tasmania to take action over the plight of women forced to fly to the mainland for an abortion?
Look, we don’t regulate those services. They are conducted at state level. What we would do is encourage every state to provide a range of services through their public hospital system for all of the needs of both women and men, and this is one service obviously where there is a genuine gap and we would respectfully encourage the state to be providing those services.
Should they pay for full accommodation and flights so that those people can get those services on the mainland?
Well, I think everybody would prefer that the services were available in Tasmania and this is the type of service that should be available in every state, in every territory.
It’s a common procedure and it’s something which is fundamental to the health system. It’s why it’s been included as an item in the Medicare system and is rebateable under Medicare, under general obstetrics procedures, and has been since the commencement of Medicare.
If the Tasmanian Government continues to fail women over the next few months, years, is there a role for the Federal Government to step in?
No, we don’t have a power over either the public or the private provision of those services. We provide a rebate, which has been the case since the commencement of Medicare and has essentially been unchanged in terms of the nature and scope of that.
But the provision of those services is either a matter for state public hospitals, we don’t have any state public hospitals, or for private providers. And what’s happened here is that a private provider, for whatever the reason, says ‘we’ve withdrawn from the market’, in which case the natural response is at the state level because they have the hospital services. We don’t run hospital services.
Why are women being flown interstate when the same procedure is available for free in public hospitals for women who have a miscarriage? Why can’t these women be treated in a public hospital?
You’d have to ask the Tasmanian Government about that. I’m not being critical. Simply, these services, as a general rule, around the country, should be available in public hospitals where women don’t have access to private providers.
And just on Australia Day, there’s a number of activists and Greens MPs saying that flags should be flown at half-mast on Australia Day. Do you agree with that?
I think it’s a ridiculous idea. Australia Day is a day to celebrate. It’s a day where we acknowledge the extraordinary genius of the Australian project and modern Australia. It includes all Australia.
And it’s a time when we acknowledge there is good and bad in the Australian story. But overwhelmingly, Australia has been one of the world’s great successes, one of the world’s great successes, as a modern, integrated nation.
Is it acceptable not all Australians will receive top internet speeds (inaudible)?
Look, I’ll leave that to the Minister for Communications.
Just one more question – what’s your response to claims the cost of the Future Submarines program will blowout by millions of dollars?
Again, I’ll leave that to the relevant Minister, Christopher Pyne.