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Interview with Steve Price on 2GB about ongoing reforms to private health insurance

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt’s 2GB interview with Steve Price where he talks about ongoing reforms to private health insurance.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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A lot of debate, and a lot of it centres around the fact that youngsters are not signing up to private health insurance.

Well, the Federal Health Minister has ruled out, as I just mentioned, the scrapping of Medicare.

It was used as a scare campaign twice in the last two federal elections, and the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me on the line from Canberra just before Question Time today.

Minister, good afternoon. Thanks for your time.


And good afternoon, Steve.


You can imagine NIB self-interest saying that we should scrap Medicare, put everyone on private health insurance, have a sliding scale, those who can't afford it, basically, the Government pays but the rest of them pay according to their income. Would that work?


No. So, we've rejected that clearly, categorically, absolutely. But yeah, some people who want an American-style system. No.

Some people who want a British-style system, such as the Grattan Institute where effectively they want to kill off private health insurance; my view is that Australia has close to, and arguably, the best health system in the world.

Lots to do, but it's the combination of the public where we provide Medicare – which allows people to go to the doctor – and the private, where people also have their own choice in terms of elective surgery, their hospital, the doctor, and they're able to do that.

What we do have to do is continue the reforms that we have done to make private health insurance more accessible. A, it’s simple.

You know what's in and what's not in, which we've done with the biggest reforms in a decade which delivered the lowest price change in 18 years. But more to do.

And B, what we want to do is make sure we continue to drive down those cost pressures and we’re – right now, we've already started that next round of reforms by getting the private health insurers and the private hospitals and the doctors together and to say: but what will actually deliver a better outcome for the patient?

Do they have to be admitted for 20 days because of the current rules for mental health, or should we be able to examine something which allows them to have a mixture of treatment in hospital and outside?

And that's what the patients are asking for, the doctors are suggesting, and both sides are going to come very shortly with the proposals to give a better outcome for the patients; but will also make private health more affordable again.


You have said you’re going to have a review into the system. That emailer that says to me: well look, unless private health can offer gap free, or almost gap free, why would young people take it up?

I mix with a whole bunch of young people when I’m at Channel 10 on The Project with people aged between, sort of 25 and 30. A lot of them when I ask them if they’ve got private health insurance say: no, well why would I need it?

If I have an accident the Government will look after me.

Why should you? What is the incentive for young people to be in private health insurance?


So, it’s immensely important for young people. There was a report today which said we were going to have a review. That was wrong.




We’ve done one round of reports.

Now – one round of reforms, and we're already getting on with the second round.

The Labor Party wants to put things off for two years and have a grand, expensive Productivity Commission and do nothing.

But frankly, we're already working with the private health insurers and with the hospitals and we're not reviewing; we're just getting on with the next round of actually delivering better outcomes for patients. And I don't want to wait and be caught in that, sort of, do nothing cycle that they're proposing.

But for young people, what we've just done is for the first time introduced lower costs with discounts for people who come in under 30.

Discounts of up to 10 per cent which will stay right through until they're 40, and why would young people come in? Mental health is a huge issue for young people.

And so early and immediate access to mental health treatments through private health insurance without the waiting periods – that's been a very important reform.


But you can't jump in – you can't jump in, can you, with a precondition – pre-existing condition? So.


Well, with mental health there are now no waiting times for pre-existing conditions, and that's been a reform that we've delivered in the last year – extremely important – and it matters to me because it makes private health more attractive for young people, but it really matters to me because it means that young people can get that treatment that they need for mental health without having to wait.


So I would get quicker treatment if I had an issue with, say, PTSD or I had an anxiety issue – if I was in private health insurance I'd get quicker treatment than if I tried to go public?


Well potentially, yes, you can have access to a – you can have access to a hospital.

We know that some of the states, in particular Victoria, have not done what they should have done in terms of providing those resources within their hospitals; that getting a mental health bed in a state public hospital is not what it should be.

That's why we're putting an extra $30 billion into the state hospital system.

But we know that a major reason for people taking out private health insurance is to make sure that they have the safeguard and the safety net of something going wrong; but also to have that access to additional mental health support over and above what the states are providing.

And Victoria and Queensland are probably the weak points. I think New South Wales and WA, so I'm not being partisan, are strong on this front.


Just a quick, typical email you might respond to – Anthony, Sylvania –

I’m 44, married. We don't have children. Wife and I have been in private health insurance, part of the family policy from our parents, both with HCF, not used or claimed on anything private for as long as we've been married, which is nine years. I can't remember when I claimed on the insurance ever.

The reasons why I continue to hold the cover which I hate paying the premium, is due to, one, with my income level I would be charged additional a Medicare surcharge.

Two, lifetime load. If we cancel them (inaudible) take up cover again. I do find the insurance to be a rip-off. I pay $3000, I could use that for additional family budget, you know, areas to spend it on.

Why should he stay in?


Well, we do have policy measures, absolutely. And I recognise that this is one of those areas where it's a necessary element but nobody loves it.

But equally, what private health does do is it’s there for that moment like all insurance. Why do you have house insurance? Mostly you don't use your house insurance.


That’s true.


But you have it for the catastrophic situation. And think of it this way: if we're willing to insure our house or our car; insuring our body and our life and our mind is a very, very understandable thing to do.

And for many people, it is their priority. And interestingly, 50 per cent of people who have private health insurance have under $50,000 in income. So what that says is that people are making deliberate choices.

There are none of those policy mechanisms which are driving it. We provide a rebate to assist but they're doing it because they believe in it. They can see the value in terms of their hips, their knees.

It could be the extras which go to, you know, their teeth or rehab; or they simply have it there for that moment of need and it provides an enormous amount of peace of mind.

That’s why, I think, we have in my view a vastly preferable system to either the UK or the US – the UK with its much more nationalised system; the American with its much more privatised system – and why I think it would be a mistake for Australia to go in either of those directions, and there was a Grattan Institute model to go towards the British version and abandon private health last week.

I reject that. There was a private health insurance model which NIB put out yesterday to say: let's ditch Medicare. We reject that.

My job now is to keep adding new things and new medicines to Medicare and the PBS, and to keep reforming private health insurance to build on what we've just done in almost halving the price change in private health from what it was under Labor to what it is under us; but then to deliver that round of simpler and better outcomes for people so that they actually get better use from their private health.


Not sure enjoy and Question Time are words that go together but we'll see you in there on the tele shortly.


No, no, I always enjoy it because it’s a chance to explain to the public.


Thanks for being on the program this afternoon.


Thank, mate.


Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

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