Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 7.30 Report
Read the transcript of Minister Hunt’s interview on ABC's 7.30 Report, talking about Australia's health system, dental care, Medicare, private health insurance, and tackling out-of-pocket costs.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
And the Health Minister Greg Hunt is with us from Parliament House. Thanks for your time, Minister.
There are so many challenges facing the health system as our series is showing, but I’d like to start with some of what we’ve watched tonight just while it’s fresh in the viewers’ minds.
Grant Williams, the bloke who’s been told that he’d maybe have to wait 12 to 15 months to have his painful teeth fixed, there’s something seriously wrong, isn’t there, if the best that the health system can do for somebody with brain cancer and a pregnant wife is that.
Well, I think it’s absolutely important that we focus on patients such as Grant, and do everything we can. In terms of his cancer treatment, I would hope that he has access to medicines, which in some cases might have cost well over $100,000 on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme, the treatment in the hospitals.
In terms of his dental- dental care is immensely important. It’s a deep personal passion. One of the first decisions I made on coming to office was to increase by $150 million the funding for the Child Dental Benefit Scheme.
We’ve recently added a billion to that, and we’ve recently added another $100 million to our support for the states’ public dental scheme.
So the way it works in Australia is we have historically, at the national level, taken responsibility for the private scheme that delivers over $42 million different services, and the states have taken responsibility for the public.
But we’ve injected that billion dollars into the scheme. And $350 million, in particular, for the adult public dental scheme. So we’ll keep working with them.
When would you expect to see that flow in through in terms of results?
Well, I would like to see those waiting times come down. That funding has been allocated and we want to work with the states to do that.
But in particular, the fact that we have both public and private working together is immensely important. But I hear something such as that story, and I’d like to get the details after the program from your producer and to see what we can do to assist.
I'll talk about public and private shortly, but can I just ask broadly is it really true to tell Australians that we have universal public healthcare when clearly your income level and your post code play a big role in determining the level of care that you get?
Well, I think Medicare is a – it's a universal system. It is, in my view, one of the best systems in the world. And as your series started this week, it said that we have one of the best systems in the world; in fact, ranked number two in the world by the Commonwealth Health Fund and number.
I’m sorry to interrupt, Minister, but it is indisputable, isn’t it, that if you're rich you're getting better healthcare outcomes in Australia than if you're poor?
And number one for clinical care. But access is the thing means we’re not number one.
So my goal is very clear: to make sure that we achieve the vision of being the best health system in the world.
The interesting thing which I'm able to announce tonight: bulk billing rate, which will be released tomorrow for the year-to-date will be at 86 per cent.
That's the highest level on record. That means 86 out of every visits to the doctor are for free.
Interestingly, those people on lower income have a much higher rate of bulk billing in most of Australia – not universally – than those people on higher incomes.
So the system is actually delivering those free services to those who most need them, most of the time. But we can always do better.
If you don't have a bulk billing GP, you’ll pay about $80 for a consult, of which Medicare gives you back about half.
Your private health insurance, if you have it, gives you nothing for a GP consult. Outside of a hospital stay, private health insurance covers Australians for very little compared to the cost of premiums.
Why is the Government subsidising that industry through rebates and through forcing high income earners into it by the Medicare levy penalty, when the return on private health insurance for many Australians is pretty mediocre at best?
50 per cent of people with private health insurance have an income of under $50,000. The rebates only go to those people with lower incomes.
So it's tiered. So you have three tiers, and the higher your income, the less you get. And once you hit a certain threshold, you get nothing. And so…
But is it delivering value for money?
It's immensely important, private health insurance. As you see, 42 million dental services are provided under private health insurance every year. It gives people choice in terms of their hospitals and their doctors.
And the fact that so many people who are lower income earners choose to invest in it, indicates that it's a value for them. But what we have done is bring about a dramatic transformation set of reforms to make it more affordable and to make it simpler.
The largest reforms in a decade have just delivered the lowest price changes in 18 years. But more importantly still, it's been simplified so people can understand it. And in particular, we’ve increased the ability of mental health treatment.
We’ve increased access for people in rural and remote areas, and we’ve increased the incentives for young people to join. So all of those are part of a system that is absolutely, in my view, far better than the US privatised model, far better than the British model. And I think.
Even with that, Minister – sorry, to interrupt. Even with that though, if you look at, say, the issue of co-payments and the gap that people have to pay.
Co-payments of medical specialists in Australia last year were $1.5 billion in out of pocket costs. Do you think the size of out-of-pocket costs is a problem, and is there anything more that can be done about that?
There are cases of exorbitant charging as the Chief Medical Officer acknowledged. And we have a very clear plan on that.
Firstly, I commission the Chief Medical Officer to develop in conjunction with the medical sector for the first time a national transparency system, which will allow people to see how much their specialist is charging compared with somebody else.
And the overwhelming majority of specialists do the right thing, but there are outliers. And I can announce tonight that that will be online, the first tranche of that, by the end of this year.
Secondly, the Australian Medical Association, so the AMA, is developing a new system of informed financial consent where when there's an extended period of treatment that is likely, they will be asking and requiring their members to provide that to the patients.
And I can also confirm tonight having spoken directly with the President of the AMA today, that that will be released within the next month and that will transform patient information.
So these two steps are immensely important in patients having more choice, better understanding, and the capacity to seek the help that suits them.
Minister, we’re out of time. Thank you very much for joining us this evening.
It's a real privilege, Leigh.