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

SABRA LANE:

Joining us now from Melbourne is the Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Minister, good morning and welcome.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:

Just briefly, how do you characterise this change?

GREG HUNT:

This is about including additional coverage for areas such as mental health and for those in rural and remote areas. It’s about making private health insurance more affordable and easier to understand.

At the end of the day, we believe that more people should be able to take up private health and more people should be able to maintain their private health.

SABRA LANE:

Almost everyone has a bad story about private health insurance based on their own experience or from their circle of families and friends or, you know, how much they pay, people don’t think it’s good or even great value for money. Will this package change that?

GREG HUNT:

Well Australians do value their private health. There are many people who make sacrifices, there are pensioners, there are retirees, there are families, people in rural and remote areas who really place enormous value on private health.

This is about making it simpler and about improving the value for families. So if we can now have improved mental health coverage, improved coverage for people in rural and remote areas, discounts of up to 10 per cent for young people under 30, and reduced pressure on premiums across the board whilst it’s simpler to understand and there are no surprises, then that will improve the value for Australian families.

And it also maintains choice and decreases the pressure on public hospitals as well. All of those things together are important for the health system and fundamental for Australian families and pensioners and young people.

SABRA LANE:

Just on premium increases, that is a major bugbear for people. Will you guarantee the big premium increases will stop every year?

GREG HUNT:

Well my hope is that we’ll have the lowest premium changes in over a decade. And for young people, that will be a direct reduction of up to 10 per cent and across the board we hope to save hundreds of dollars over the coming three years, very significant outcomes for people.

SABRA LANE:

Sorry, Minister, you said that is your hope. Can you guarantee it?

GREG HUNT:

These are matters for the private sector, but they have guaranteed that they will pass through every dollar.

There is a billion dollars of savings which has come from reform with the prostheses or device sector, knees, hips, cardiac devices, and in return the device makers will have faster access to market for their products, which for consumer’s means and patients means better access to new devices earlier.

So it’s a really good outcome all round, reduced pressure on premiums, discounts for young people, better access to mental health and no surprises, so as people know exactly what is in their package.

SABRA LANE:

Just on the premium increases, we just heard in Stephanie’s package earlier, there’s even scepticism from the private health insurance chiefs themselves. We heard from Bupa’s Dwayne Crombie that you can achieve what you’re saying you’ll do.

GREG HUNT:

Well, with respect, I think that all of the private health insurers have agreed that cost reduction’s 100 per cent. I suspect that that was a very tiny piece of a longer interview that may have been taken out of context, because I’ve spoken with …

SABRA LANE:

Oh, I doubt it…

GREG HUNT:

The individual in question and I’ve spoken with many people and they will be passing through these costs.

And ultimately, the Commonwealth is in a position to reject their premium requests if they aren’t doing that. So there is a carrot and there is a stick and it’s time to reform private health insurance to make it more affordable. We’re doing it and it’s the biggest package in over 15 years.

SABRA LANE:

Many people will wonder – especially on your point about prosthetics, the saving of a billion dollars – have consumers been played for mugs?

GREG HUNT:

Well I think that it’s clear that there could have been more savings over the course of the last 15 years, and we’re doing them. I’m less than one year into the role, in the first nine months delivering this package. We had the agreements with the doctors …

SABRA LANE:

So consumers have been paying billions more over the last 15 years than they should have been?

GREG HUNT:

Well as technology has gone ahead and the costs of some of these devices have come down, we’re able to make real savings and that’s what we’re doing now and it’s, as I say, only my first few months in the job, but we’ve been able to reach these agreements.

And, for a sector to accept a billion dollar reduction in their payments, which is the device makers, that’s a great outcome for the public, it’s a great outcome for the taxpayer and for patients who will have better access earlier to new devices, it will be fundamental to them, and all up, that helps to allow for increased downwards pressure on premiums and the discounts for young people, really fundamental to the sustainability of the system and fundamental to the affordability for each individual.

SABRA LANE:

One of the biggest problems, Minister, you would be well aware of, is that people complain about the unexpected out of pocket costs, being slugged huge fees for surgeons. Once you’ve had surgery in a private setting, will that stop?

GREG HUNT:

Well we want to make sure there are no surprises.

SABRA LANE:

Will it stop?

GREG HUNT:

Well my belief is and my hope is that that will be a fundamental change here. A no surprises policy is what we’re implementing, which means gold, silver, bronze and basic policies.

So everybody will have a one page summary, they can see exactly what is in and what is out of their policy their policy.

SABRA LANE:

How will you ensure that that stops?

GREG HUNT:

Well, what we’re doing here is ensuring that there are standard definitions across all policies, that all of the private health insurers are mandated to adhere to the gold, silver, bronze and basic categories.

They’ve accepted that and that means that people will have clear choices and clear explanations in a way that has never previously been the case.

So this is deep, fundamental reform, but with the support of the sector and ultimately for the public that’s about lower cost of living and it’s about better health coverage by taking costs out of the system. And I think that’s really something fundamental.

SABRA LANE:

Is this the extent of the changes, or is there more to come?

GREG HUNT:

Look, this is the first round. I will always be working to bring costs down. Every single dollar matters to Australians.

And they value their private health insurance, but you have a lot of people who sacrifice a great deal to maintain that private health insurance to have the security and to have the choice.

But we want to continue to push, so long as I’m in the role, to make it more affordable and better in terms of its coverage and its simplicity.

SABRA LANE:

Health Minister Greg Hunt. Thank you for joining AM this morning.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks, Sabra.