Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Melbourne regarding the Pain MedsCheck trial launch and private health insurance premiums.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
I’m delighted to be here at the Vermont South Amcal Pharmacy with the part-owner, George Tambassis, who is also the president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Jarrod McMaugh, who is the vice president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Victoria Division.
And to have met some of the patients, and also to have met the magnificent pharmacists and pharmacy assistants who are here at Vermont South.
I am delighted to announce that, in conjunction with the Pharmacy Society and the Guild, we have developed and reached agreement on a $20 million Pain MedsCheck program.
Pain matters to so many people. It can be chronic pain, and up to one in five Australians have chronic pain, and it’s critical that we give them the right advice, access to the right medicines, and also to protect them against addiction and any risks that come with that, because there can also be tremendous downsides if the right medicine isn’t taken or addiction is allowed to occur, as we’ve seen in the United States with an opioid crisis.
But the agreement which has come from the work with the Society and the work with the Guild has been to build a national trial program, which will be available in all pharmacies around Australia, all community pharmacies.
What does that mean? It means that our pharmacists will be available to work and to provide advice on the right type of over-the-counter medicine, or the management in conjunction with GPs, of prescription medicines for pain. Many people will need advice.
This is about ensuring that the pharmacy moves to a higher level, something that George and I, and both Jarrod and the Society more generally have been working towards, and that is the pharmacy as a critical part of frontline care, of primary care.
That’s why there will be a Health Care Homes pharmacy component, pharmacies involved in taking care of people with diabetes, of taking care of Indigenous Australians with chronic needs.
So, this is a real breakthrough. It commences as of 1 February and it’s designed as part of Australia’s new pain management regime to give people the best advice from the best possible people, with $20 million of federal support, which is part of the broader Pharmacy Trials Program under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement.
But at the end of the day, it’s giving people the best possible care from the best possible people to do it.
Thanks, Greg. We’re just here with the Guild, and as a pharmacy owner here at Vermont South we’re absolutely delighted that we’ve got this new program called Pains MedsCheck.
All patients around Australia will have access to that in every single pharmacy – 5700 pharmacies around Australia.
We’re delighted that we can sit down with patients that have some chronic pain issues, discuss their analgesics, work out what other medication they’re on, and actually provide a plan for them, a plan to resolve their issues.
If there’s any issues in terms of misuse or dependence, we’ll resolve those. If the solution will be based on, let’s say a referring to a GP, we’ll refer that patient to a GP.
We’ll make it as smooth as possible for patients to work out an action plan to resolve their pain issues, because we know chronic pain and acute pain is a serious issue in Australia, and we don’t want to go down the pathway of the opioid crisis that perhaps other countries are getting involved in. We want an action plan that resolves it at your local pharmacy, where you don’t need an appointment.
By all means, please go and speak to your pharmacist after 1 February, ask about the Pains MedsCheck.
It will be available, as Minister Hunt says, from 1 February onwards. It’s a great initiative and I’m so glad that the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Guild are working together to put that action plan together for patients all around Australia.
The PSA's very happy to be working with the Minister and the Guild on this program that helps patients with their pain.
It’s great to have recognition of pharmacist’s expertise with medicines and how we can work together with patients and with GPs to help patients understand how the medication works, how their pain works, and what their expectations should be.
I think this is a great move forward for pharmacy and for patients in Australia.
Happy to take any questions.
Just on private health insurance, the AMA says there’s deep-seated problems in the health insurance industry.
Several people feel like their insurance aren’t transparent about exactly what is or isn’t covered by their funds. Do you agree that this is driving some people away from private health insurance?
Well, we know that private health insurance is deeply valued and immensely important to millions and millions of Australians.
That’s why we’ve introduced the biggest reform package in over a decade and we now have the lowest change in 17 years since 2001. So, a very significant reform package to simplify.
I agree with the AMA that people need transparency. Surprises in hospital are not acceptable, and on our watch, we are moving to change that.
So, the industry has accepted a radical simplification program, so as every Australian will know what they are covered for and what they aren’t.
But they also want value for money, which is why we have enormous change in access to mental health services, ending the waiting period for upgrades of your mental health coverage, and better support for rural and remote Australians, and above all else, taking $1 billion out of the costs which has led to the lowest change in premium prices in 17 years. But we want to do more, because absolutely every dollar matters to families.
What would you say to those families who are already struggling with the cost of living and who are considering dropping their healthcare?
I understand how absolutely important cost is, which is why we’ve worked and driven and pushed not just the private health companies, but also the med-tech sector to reduce costs. We will keep going, because families need all the support that they can get.
Pensioners who save every dollar in order to be able to afford their private health insurance need all the help that they can get. It’s the lowest change in 17 years, but there’s more work that we’ll be driving on to push even further.
Do you think young people will be hesitant to sign up now because the price has gone up?
Well, there will be up to 10 per cent discounts for young people. That’s the most significant reform for young people in two decades, and these discounts for young people are about saying to them, if you sign up now, you can get benefits for up to 20 years in terms of reduced premiums.
So, discounts can be up to 10 per cent and it can be carried through the full discount to age 40 and partial discount to age 45. So, for young people, the incentives to sign up are real and significant and long-term.
In terms of transparency, where does the blame lie there? Is it a fault in regulation, in the behaviour of the industry, or simply the failure of individuals to do due diligence before selecting the insurance?
No, I certainly don’t blame individuals. This is something which has built up over a long period of time, and on our watch, in our time, it’s our responsibility to fix it.
Every Australian will get, going forwards, a one-pager which will explain what’s in their coverage and importantly what’s not in their coverage.
There were some in the private health sector who resisted that, but we demanded that this dramatic simplification will come forward, and it will, and that means that all Australians will know what’s in and importantly what’s not in their private health.
How do you substantiate your claim that insurance premiums would skyrocket under Labor’s policies, and what evidence can you cite there?
That’s very simple. Labor wants to abolish what are called choice of doctor policies within public hospitals.
That means that people on lower incomes or who are struggling still get private health coverage, still get the choice of doctor.
But if Labor abolishes them, the work of the Deloitte modelling shows that that policy would lead to a 16 per cent increase in private health insurance costs.
So, we’re driving hard because we believe in private health, to take the pressure off private health.
Labor doesn’t believe in private health and they would implement a 16 per cent increase in the cost of private health, which would be devastating for individuals and devastating for waiting times in public hospitals.
Okay, thank you very much.