Date published: 
16 July 2018
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

JON FAINE:

Greg Hunt is the Minister for Health in the Coalition Federal Government, the Malcolm Turnbull-led Coalition Government. Mr Hunt, good morning to you.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Jon.

JON FAINE:

Are you entirely comfortable with a massive government database about everyone’s health records?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I am very comfortable with this system. It’s quite different to what you presented. It’s actually been operating for six years, it has almost 6 million people enrolled currently. And what it is, is an online summary of your individual health information and it allows you for the first time to access your own information as well as to have your own lifetime records. You can control who has access, what they have access to and indeed whether or not you have a record at all. So it gives people individual control

And what it’s very likely to do is to reduce the number of hospital admissions for misuse of medicines, to increase people’s ability to know what medicines they’ve been on in the past or what diagnosis they’ve had. And it’s been operating for six years, so I think it’s a very important point to make.

JON FAINE:

Yes, in theory that’s true but in practice how much control can I really have, how much control will Australians really have over who accesses their information, about what limits there are to who can see what they want to see on my file? I’d have to be a very activist consumer to exercise those sorts of controls that you’re referring to, wouldn’t I?

GREG HUNT:

No, with respect, you can have total control. You can choose not to have the record, you can choose not to have documents or diagnosis uploaded, you can choose to have them taken down and you can also choose to control who can have access. And importantly…

JON FAINE:

How do I do that?

GREG HUNT:

You can do that through the online process or over the telephone for My Health Record. So, that’s the thing here that it gives an individual, for the first time, access to their own records but also control over who does access them. And there’s an electronic signature so as we know exactly who accesses them. Whereas a paper record which lives in a GP’s filing cabinet or even most practices currently have electronic records won’t necessarily let you know who’s accessed it, whereas you can know exactly who can, you can define who can. And most importantly, it’s about ensuring people have the ability to know their own history because we all move from doctor to doctor, life circumstances…

JON FAINE:

We do indeed and they’re complex areas. But it’s a bit like assuring us that Centrelink operates a fully transparent and accessible system, when anyone who tries to use it knows that it’s far from exactly that. This system…

GREG HUNT:

I guess the alternative, Jon…

JON FAINE:

Sorry, just to finish my point…

GREG HUNT:

Yep.

JON FAINE:

…I’ve had a quick look, I haven’t had time to invest what’s clearly required to learn to navigate the system this morning but it’s far from user-friendly on my own experience.

GREG HUNT:

Well there are six-million Australians, not one or two or three or four or five but six-million Australians, who are already enrolled and using the system. It’s being used by many people to ensure that they know their own medical history, they can access it. And it’s been running for six years now through different governments and different health ministers.

Now it’s rolling out nationally. And this is actually how medicine operates at present, in the sense that many people have electronic records with their individual doctors but if they then go to a hospital and there’s an emergency, there’s no ability to access the material from the GP, at the moment you haven’t been able to do that unless you’ve got the My Health Record.

Those who have it do have that capacity. And that’s a very important thing in terms of if somebody has an allergy to penicillin, if somebody doesn’t know, let’s say it’s a dad who hasn’t been at the doctor with their with the child but the mum has or vice-versa, (inaudible) a massive difference.

JON FAINE:

So, if you’re so convinced that it should be an opt-out system rather than an opt-in system, why do we have an opt-in system for organ donors, why don’t we have the same approach there?

GREG HUNT:

This is much more analogous to the Medicare card. And the point here is that all of the states and territories, Labor and Liberal, all of the leading health authorities, whether it’s the College of General Practitioners, the AMA or even the consumer health groups, the Consumers Health Forum and what’s known as the (inaudible), have all been very supportive of this approach. And they represent the different consumers and the different parts.

Now we’ve got, I think, 77 per cent of GPs who are registered and by December we’ll have three-quarters of pharmacies and hospitals and over three-quarters of pathologists. So it gives you access to your own material. It’s part of a national system agreed by all states and territories unanimously and agreed by the health professions, and the thing is anybody, anybody at any time can choose to either opt out. So, if there’s no record created or have your record taken down and that’s a very important step forward.

JON FAINE:

Okay. I’ve got really bad news for you, Minister. We’ve just tried, while you’ve been speaking, to engage with myhealthrecord.gov.au, in order to log on, in order to see how you opt out, and we’ve got an error message, unable to perform SSO at the time, you’ve been unable to single sign on to our partner, return to myGov. The system’s not working as you speak and say anyone at any time, as you just said. In fact, it’s not working.

GREG HUNT:

I won’t speak for whoever’s doing your operations.

JON FAINE:

Well it’s one of my producers trying to put to the test what you just said.

GREG HUNT:

I’m very happy to have the Digital Health Agency call them and we’ll arrange for that afterwards.

JON FAINE:

Well, this is the problem, isn’t it?

GREG HUNT:

Well, not really …

JON FAINE:

Here’s the Minister live to air saying anyone can do it at any time. So my producer puts it to the test and gets an error message saying unable to perform.

GREG HUNT:

Well, Jon, with the greatest respect, six million Australians have been able to do this and have been operating very, very successfully, and…

JON FAINE:

But with the greatest of respect always is the debater’s resort to: I’ve got no respect at all. What you’re promising is not happening.

GREG HUNT:

No, no, no.

JON FAINE:

It’s just not there.

GREG HUNT:

No. Again, very very clearly, we have six million Australians doing it. I guess the alternative is - are we saying that Australia shouldn’t have a modern system that allows for diagnoses, medicine, other records, vaccination, all to be available to the consumer.

And I think around the world, this is the direction of medicine. It’s actually about saving lives, preventing hospitalisations, ensuring that patients are able to access their own medicine. It’s had bipartisan support. It’s had cross-government support. It’s got the support of the professionals, the support of the consumers and it’s been operating for six years.

JON FAINE:

And I understand the balance. There’s much to be gained by cutting out some of the waste, some of the misdiagnoses, some of the inefficient use of resources. I get that, but we’ll wait and see how it settles down. But clearly, as you speak, it’s not actually working right now. Separately though …

GREG HUNT:

Well, it has been for six years and I’ll ask the Digital Health Agency …

JON FAINE:

Yeah, yeah, we’ll follow up.

GREG HUNT:

… to call your producer. What’s your producer’s name?

JON FAINE:

Well, you can go through the office. That’s not a problem. I’m not putting someone’s name to air.

GREG HUNT:

Okay. We don’t want to identify the producer.

JON FAINE:

No, no. We respect their privacy.

GREG HUNT:

Okay.

JON FAINE:

Obviously, you don’t.

GREG HUNT:

You just outlined the fact that your own office is trying to do this and is unable to do it.

JON FAINE:

Well, you just asked me for my producer’s name live to air. Let’s move on. You’re also announcing your comparative for private health insurance, Minister. So this has long been sought and organisations like the Consumers’ Association have been doing this for a long time, so why does the government now want to do what’s already being done?

GREG HUNT:

No this is again something that’s been discussed and agreed. What we’re doing is bringing together a way for people to understand how their policy operates and compares. The biggest complaint that we receive is in terms of surprises, people not knowing what is or isn’t covered.

Health policy can be very complex. We’re simplifying them. There are 70,000 policies and everybody will know in one single page, clearly, what’s in, what’s out, what’s covered, what’s not covered.

So as they will know what they get for their health insurance. And what we really want to do it make sure that there are no surprises going forward. That’s a very important thing. Australians value their health insurance. There are about 55 per cent of the population who have health insurance.

JON FAINE:

Oh, it’s a system that is the envy of the rest of the world, but it’s under financial pressure. The Labor Party have already started the soft election campaign that we’ve been having for a while now, by promising a two per cent limit on increases in premiums. Is the government going to match that?

GREG HUNT:

Well, in fact they’ve got a 16 per cent increase proposal, which was reaffirmed yesterday. What they will do is they will strip away the rebate from low cost policies. That will have a 16 per cent price hike and it’ll mean that people have lost the ability to have lower cost policies, particularly for pensioners and low-income earners.

For many in regional areas who prefer to have their choice of doctor, their choice of doctor is taken away. And only today we see on the front of The Australian that they’ve been secretly negotiating to let their union mates out of that cap because it is likely to destroy funds and there’ve been reports that two Tasmanian funds are under very significant risk of literally going under and people being left without cover. And so, the question today is will they confirm or will they deny that they have been secretly negotiating to cut back their own policy because it’s...

JON FAINE:

So your concern is that if indeed you impose a cap, some of the smaller funds aren’t viable. Is that what you’re saying?

GREG HUNT:

Absolutely. And that’s been the statement of both the Private Health Association and Members Health - the large and the small private health insurance representative bodies respectively. They’ve both referred to financial pressure and the risk of failure. And so that’s…

JON FAINE:

Alright. We’ll put that to the Labor Party. Just given I’m a bit pressed for time, the Prime Minister’s actually making a trip to Melbourne today for an announcement with you about clinical trials of some new kids’ brain cancer drugs. Exactly what’s being proposed today or what’s being offered?

GREG HUNT:

So this is exactly the sort of things we were talking about before, the new type of electronic and precision medicine that’s available. It’s $5 million under the Australian Brain Cancer Mission to help with the DNA sequencing, and therefore the international analysis and domestic analysis of the hardest brain cancer cases in children.

There’s a beautiful story in the Herald Sun today about a young boy who’s had his tumour sequenced as part of the early trials of this program, and they discovered a rare genetic mutation. They’ve been able to treat him. Not out of the woods yet, but an aggressive tumour has stopped expanding and we remain very hopeful.

There’s another case in Sydney where a beautiful young girl, who was 12 months old when I met her, was really on the edge. They had her tumour sequenced, discovered a rare mutation, were able to get, through this program, a medicine from overseas, a trial medicine, and she’s been released from hospital and travelling very well.

JON FAINE:

So the Prime Minister is joining you to announce some funds for these new treatments, which is very exciting of course for anybody affected in that way and they’ll be, I’m sure, very grateful. Thank you for your time on all those issues this morning.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks Jon.