Date published: 
16 October 2017
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

16 October 2017



E&OE…



Topics: Making private health insurance simpler and more affordable, e-cigarettes.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Well with you is the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, thanks for your time.



GREG HUNT:

It’s a pleasure.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

In a nutshell, really quickly, why should young people get private health insurance?



GREG HUNT:

Well it firstly gives them peace of mind. Secondly it gives them protection. Thirdly, now that we’ve made the changes on mental health which have been overwhelmingly welcomed by the mental health sector, which is an incredibly strong and independent sector, it deals with what is for many young people their most important health concern.



The risk that if they have an underlying condition - anxiety, depression, eating disorders - they can have access to better care and to immediate care. So really fundamental and important concerns for many young people.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

We’re going to get deeper into what it actually does for mental health care in just a moment but first you talked about ease of mind, for a lot of young people who are fit and healthy and not accessing medical services, is this more about hoping the young people will get the private health care so they can pay for older people’s health care?



GREG HUNT:

No, no, what we want to so is make sure that we have as broad a coverage as possible across Australia because it’s good for individuals, it gives them both choice and peace of mind and we know that mental health is such an important consideration for young people.



I visited a private hospital on Friday. Their most significant reason for admission for young people into their emergency department in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, was mental health. So these are really about making as much care possible available to young people. Now the big changes here…



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Sure. So, okay, let’s talk about mental health then. Let’s actually explain what the mental health changes are. Would you mind doing that?



GREG HUNT:

Sure of course. So at the moment if you want to upgrade your policy to access immediate mental health treatment in some circumstances then what occurs is that there can be a two month waiting period.



That’s something which, whether it’s people such as Pat McGorry, Ian Hickie, beyondblue and others, they’ve been calling for the ending of that, this is quite a dramatic and significant change and we’ve delivered that and …



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Okay so basically what you’re saying is that if someone needs to use the hospital because of a mental health issue they can pay the excess, they can upgrade their deal and they can go straight to hospital without having to wait, which is super important. But why are we waiting until someone gets to hospital? Why didn’t we make changes that offer young people specialist mental health care in the community before they’re needing an emergency bed?



GREG HUNT:

Well we also have that, for example we’re expanding the number of the different types of on-the-ground health care in terms of headspace for example. We’ve added many. We’re up to 100 now. We’re adding to that to take it to 110 centres around the country. In addition to that we’ve just put out $80 million for psycho-social care and there’s $4 billion all up for mental health care.



So there are significant facilities that are available in the community. But most significantly, one of the gaps has been the ability for in-hospital treatment which is really for the acute cases. So we try to treat everybody who seeks help as early as possible, but the truth is that many people will go on and require immediate treatment, hospital treatment, and on occasions that isn’t available, this is ending that barrier.



And I think that’s a very significant moment in Australian mental health history and certainly the mental health authorities and representatives have recognised the importance of that.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Yeah and you mentioned Ian Hickie welcoming that and that’s absolutely true but when I spoke to him today he said that it’s a good start but actually what we needed was private health insurance companies not being allowed to exclude mental health coverage anymore. You could have changed that, why didn’t you?



GREG HUNT:

Well actually we’ve made quite dramatic changes here, so you have to look at where you start from and I know I met with Ian last Thursday myself, and his view was that this was a huge step forward, and that what we’ve done here is allow people to have their choice of mental health policy within the bounds of what they could accept as affordable but then if there is need to change that and to cover it…



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Okay so…



GREG HUNT:

So they pay what’s within their means now but if they have a condition which does require a change in the level of policy, the level of coverage, then they can move from what’s affordable now to what’s required then.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Okay, but what about broadening the treatment that people can get? Why not make it so that we can see specialists outside of a hospital rather than when it gets that bad?



GREG HUNT:

Well we actually do have very broad coverage through the Medicare system at the moment. But this is about what happens in hospital once somebody gets into that situation…



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Sure but I’m asking you about that.



GREG HUNT:

So we’re doing both. You’re able to have the preventive health work which is critical and that’s why we’ve recently expanded the coverage for psychological services through telehealth for people in rural areas.



We’ve added $80 million for psycho-social services. We’ve also added the ten new headspaces, and we’ve added the suicide prevention programs in a series of places around the country.



So very, very comprehensive, out-of-hospital work but all of the advice is that there’s additional work in hospitals so we’re expanding on all fronts.



If you think about it this way, with mental health over recent years we’ve gone from $3.7 billion dollars of coverage to well over $4.2 billion dollars or a $500 million-a-year expansion of mental health coverage across the spectrum.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Greg, on the Central Coast, you have a question for the minister.



CALLER:

Two quick questions: (1) when does all of this come into place? And (2) if someone has no hospital cover and yet they need to be admitted into the psychiatric ward in a private hospital tomorrow, can they just pick up any level of cover and automated be upgraded overnight?



SARAH MCVEIGH:

So there are two things here. The first is that these reforms come into being on 1 April 2018 and 1 April 2019. We’re spreading them there because there’s legislation that’s required to put things through.



The second thing is people can of course pay out of their own pocket for coverage but that for many people is a cost that they can’t bear which is why the private health is in place and why you’re then able to upgrade.



CALLER GREG:

Sure, but does that really answer for people that have no coverage, but they find they’ve got a mental health illness, they need to be admitted into a psychiatric ward tomorrow. Can they get a level of cover, like any level of cover today, and then automatically be covered for this two month waiting period tomorrow?



GREG HUNT:

Well my understanding is that again, it depends on the individual hospitals. The whole point of private health is to enable you to have the coverage and the protection for the moment that you do face a risk, that’s the whole concept of private health. It is giving you the coverage and the peace of mind for when you do have an emergency situation.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Greg, thanks so much for the call.



And Minister, young people are often juggling low paid work, often study, they have to pay their student debts off sooner. If you want them to sign up for health care which will actually support older Australians as well, what could you offer in terms of easing costs of living in another area?



GREG HUNT:

Well let me start with what’s actually happening in this package here. There are three big things, we’re trying to make it simpler, we’re trying to make it more affordable, and we’re expanding coverage for people with mental health issues and also for people in rural and remote areas.



The more affordable side works on two fronts, one is there’s $1 billion of price reductions and savings which will be passed on in full by making the cost of devices, things such knees, and hips, or cardiac devices across the sector much cheaper.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Yeah it might be a little bit, people aren’t quite ready for that.



GREG HUNT:

No, no, but why that matters is it brings down the overall cost of premiums for everybody in terms of the forward pressures. The second thing is for young people, there are discounts of up to 10 per cent directly available on what is …



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Over a series of years. Minister, I’m sorry to wrap this section up but I know that you have to go shortly and I am keen to get to some other issues...



GREG HUNT:

Sure I’ll add one more thing though, the discounts aren’t just for whilst you’re under 30, you then keep them for 10 years, right through until you’re 40 and that’s one of the real values here that if you take it up at 25, you’ll keep it right until you’re 40 and then it will phase out to finish at 44. So you’ll have it for the best part of 20 years.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Okay, thank you so much for explaining that. I really want to ask you a couple more things and I know you’ve got to go so I’m going to get to those in just a second. On the text line someone says: I’m a doctor and I don’t have private health insurance. Where I live, if something happened to me I’d rather go to the public hospital than the private and if it was an emergency I’d automatically end up there anyway.



[Segment break]



SARAH MCVEIGH:

I’m Sarah McVeigh, filling in for Tom Tilly for the next fortnight and also with you is the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and he commissioned an inquiry into e-cigarettes which is happening right now. Liquid nicotine is illegal in Australia at the moment but that’s not stopping nearly one-third of smokers from trying vaping.



So it’s not surprising that big tobacco companies are getting into the e-cigarette business. In a moment you’ll hear from a tobacco lobbyist who is trying to persuade the Government to allow e-cigarettes and if you vape I’d love to hear from you, has it actually helped you quit smoking? 1300 055536.



Minister, why did you order an inquiry into ecigarettes?



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Well actually we responded to a request from the committee and it’s to deal with some of the claims of the tobacco companies. I think having met with the head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration today, so one of Australia’s most senior medical officials, his point to me, and this is my clear view, is there’s no strong evidence at all that this is a pathway of people quitting.



There is clear evidence that it’s likely to lead to the uptake of cigarettes, cigarette smoking, it creates the habit from around the world. My view is that this is not a desirable path and there are a lot of myths that personally I want to see exposed. Nicotine is highly addictive.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Why are you having the inquiry then? Because in March just two months before you ordered it, the Therapeutic Goods Administration made its own decision to keep the ban in place for liquid nicotine. What was wrong with their decision and their processes?



GREG HUNT:

I support their decision strongly, clearly, absolutely. I think your presumption here is incorrect. This is something where we responded to the request of the House of Representatives Health Committee to inquire in to the claims and I think the parliamentary process is a good way of dealing with and exposing those claims.



But frankly it’s big tobacco which is arguing the case for these e-cigarettes and they’re only doing it because it’s in their interests. I have a very strong, clear, categorical view that this is not something that should occur in Australia.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Does that mean it won’t happen under your government?



GREG HUNT:

It’s not going to be happening on my watch as far as I’m concerned.



SARAH MCVEIGH:

Oh there it is. Minister Hunt, thanks so much for your time.



GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much.



(ENDS)