Transcript of interview on 5AA Mornings with Leon Byner

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's interview on 5AA Mornings with Leon Byner regarding CAR-T leukaemia treatment, private health insurance and SA health.

Page last updated: 12 October 2018

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12 October 2018

E&OE…

Topics: CAR-T leukaemia treatment; private health insurance; SA health

LEON BYNER:
Now onto a very exciting story. Cancers of many types are within our community, and they’re terribly unfortunate. We’re all scared of the word and for good reason. And I want to just talk about leukaemia for a moment, because if you suffer from that – especially, if you have a friend now, or you are suffering, this is probably going to be a great piece of news. I caught up just a few minutes ago with Health Minister Greg Hunt. Greg Hunt, good morning and thanks for joining us.

GREG HUNT:
Good morning Leon.

LEON BYNER:
First of all, tell me about this extraordinary news where patients battling deadly leukaemia will be cured by a new therapy. Tell me about this.

GREG HUNT:
So there’s a new therapy called CAR-T. What is does is instead of infusing a medicine into the body, they take out the T cells, they supercharge them – in other words, they really extract the capacity for the immune cells to fight back against the cancer. And unlike other things, where you need the medicine continuously, this is a once-off treatment.

It’s still in its early stages, but patients are being cured. I’ve met an Australian patient who’s been to America, so today in Adelaide we’re working with all of the states and territories to bring this treatment to Australia, subject to obviously medical testing, but it’s one of the most exciting cancer treatments that people have seen in literally they’ve had.

LEON BYNER:
What does it cost?

GREG HUNT:
It costs about $500,000 a person but, looking at it as an investment, instead of having to pay $250,000 a year for five or ten years of medicine to do this, it’s a good economic investment. But much more importantly, it’s a profound human investment. Now this is literally saving and protecting lives, and it’s early stages, it’s the first wave of a whole new class of treatment, but the medical advice I’ve got is that this is likely to grow and evolve over the coming years in the same way that surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and the new immunotherapies have all evolved.

LEON BYNER:
Now Greg, I want you to comment on something that’s happening in our state, and you’d be somewhat familiar with the circumstances. We of course have the new Marshall Government, they’ve been there for a few months now. The health system is in very, very sore need of major reforms. We don’t have enough beds. The nurses were going to call industrial action next week to stop people having the, what’s called, elective surgery. The state government have moved to go to the industrial umpire and say, look, we don’t want this. What’s your take on this matter?

GREG HUNT:
So, look, I understand that the nurses and the paramedics do an amazing job, and that beds were closed under the previous government, and I know that Steven Marshall and Stephen Wade are opening new beds. So that’s an important way of helping to reduce the pressure. On the details of the dispute, I’ll leave that to those in South Australia who are much more across them. But I have immense respect for paramedics and I’m the son of and the husband of a nurse, so a strong sympathy.

But the key thing here is, as you have good economic management there’ll be more beds and more investment, and that’s exactly what we need. Basically, the money was all diverted into a disastrous Royal Adelaide Hospital build, and that’s meant that historically, in the last few years, they haven’t invested in the nurses and in the beds, but I know Stephen Wade and Steven Marshall are literally trying to turn that round as we speak.

LEON BYNER:
Next year, we’re going to have this four-tiered system of gold to basic, with regards to private health insurance. The information we were getting about this yesterday is that people are going to find themselves in a situation where they were covered for certain things at a price, and now for the price they were paying, the coverage for many things will now not be there. But I noticed that your take on this is that health fund premiums are going to fall.

GREG HUNT:
Yep.

LEON BYNER:
So where do we look for some guidance on this?

GREG HUNT:
So what we’re doing is introducing two big things. One is new coverage for mental health, for rural and regional patients, discounts of to 10 per cent for young people to bring them in. The second is simply classifying, so as everybody knows what’s in and what’s not in their health insurance package. And, until now, most people will understandably struggle to deal with the complexity.

It will be a simple one-pager. It’s not a change in the content of premiums, I’ve seen that some of the sort of criticism from Labor that you get. I’m not fussed about that. What it does do is it means your current policy will simply be classified, so you’ll know whether it’s gold, silver, bronze, or basic. And most importantly, on one page, you’ll know exactly what’s in, and exactly what’s out.

It’s actually not about changing the content of policies at all. It’s likely to have an impact of between 0 and -0.3 per cent in terms of prices, and it’s really a classification system. More broadly, we’ve just delivered the lowest changes in 17 years in terms of cost. But my hope and belief is this year we’ll have lower changes still, so we’re driving that very hard.

LEON BYNER:
So, from your point of view, there’s no chance that the funds in order, because they’re going to get capped at some point, the funds will just say, okay, we gave you these coverages, now we’re just going to change them. And the other thing I want to ask you about is, when you’re contracted with a health fund to have a coverage for a certain price, it seems that they can write to you, and then they’ll send you a whole lot of documents, but in the very fine print you will only know then, if you read it, and you’ve got a magnifying glass, that you’re actually going to miss out on services.

GREG HUNT:
So that’s the critical thing that we change here, in that, on one page – and this is a mandatory page – everybody will be able to see exactly what is in, and what’s not in their coverage. Otherwise you would need to have an advanced legal degree to understand some of these contracts, and our job is to make it simpler, and more transparent. In other words, you know exactly what’s in and exactly what’s not, and you can choose the right coverage for you, and the proof is that we’ve just got it down to the lowest change in 17 years,

But you did raise capping. If Labor brings in the policy where they’re capping premiums, but ripping away the rebate, you get the worst of all possible worlds. What the health funds have said about Labor’s policy is they would start to limit what they provide to people, and if without the rebate, the impact is that people would have a 16 per cent price hike. So that just comes from people that don’t like private health insurance. And the seniors, the families, that takes away their security. And then for the public hospitals, it’s just means people will flow from the private hospitals into the public and waiting lists will blow out. So it’s just a disastrous approach that they’ve got because in the end they’re ideologically against private health and choice and the peace of mind which comes with it.

LEON BYNER:
Greg, thank you for joining us.

GREG HUNT:
Thanks very much Leon.

LEON BYNER:
That’s Health Minister Greg Hunt. I think that story about a new therapy by injection to handle the kind of cancer that leukaemia is very exciting, and don’t worry, we’ll keep you very close to the edge so you know exactly how these developments are going.

(ENDS)

Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

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