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Interview with Tom Connell Sky News

Transcript of Minister for Health, Interview with Tom Connell Sky News

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

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Let’s go to our next interview of the day though, Health Minister Greg Hunt has been good enough to join us in Brisbane where, well, plenty of announcements lately, Minister, but let’s start first of all with private health insurance.

I’d say given the relative increases lately, this is pretty good: 3.25 per cent is the increase. Good on a comparative basis. Still too high for your liking?


Look, it’s the biggest set of reforms in a decade and they’ve delivered the lowest change in 18 years since 2001 and what that means is that we continue to work harder and harder, but we have more transparency so people know what’s in their private health.

I’ve just been with Pat McGorry here at the Meadowbrook headspace, south of Brisbane, where there are increased services for people with mental health conditions, and the lowest change in premium prices in 18 years and that compares with a 40 per cent reduction as it was when Labor was in power and Labor also ripped the rebate away and slashed the value of that rebate.

So we believe in private health and now we’re delivering perhaps the most significant changes in a very, very, very long time.


You’ve pointed out when you’ve been asked about this in a release as well, that this is significantly below the overall inflation rate for health generally, is that the solution to getting this back in line with inflation, that health inflation somehow needs to go down and how would that happen?


Well indeed, one of the issues here is that you had very high cost, particularly in Victoria and Queensland through their hospital services, and what we’ve been doing is to try to help them to ensure that prevention, keeping people out of hospital has a big impact on the cost of health services, but we’ve been able to drive down the cost of devices through our work directly in dealing with what are called the prosthesis makers, or people that work- it could be cardiac devices, it could be hips or knees.

We’ve been able to take the costs out of private health as a consequence and now that’s flowing through to consumers who are actually going to get the benefits, something Labor never did.

They abandoned all hope of doing this. Now we see they want to take the axe to private health with a 16 per cent price rise by dumping the rebate for over five million Australians and they have to stop that.

They have to now reverse their position and reject that because private health gives peace of mind and it’s valued by so many people and it’s fundamental to the sustainability of the Australian health care system


I’ll get to Labor’s position in a moment, but I bet you when you said prevention is the best option, health experts, indeed economists, right around Australia would have said yes, spend all the money there, and yet we see most of the money generally spent in hospitals, don’t we?

Is there a way to really reinvigorate this portfolio and make huge announcements in prevention or does that just not get the attention of voters?


No, let me give you two examples. A week ago, with the Prime Minister we announced $110 million for eating disorders to provide services out of hospitals, to keep people from going into hospitals for what can be an agonising and catastrophic physical and mental health condition.

Today, we’ve also announced $110 million for early psychosis youth services.

So here at Meadowbrook headspace with Pat McGorry, and again this is about keeping people out of hospital, so two huge announcements that are about saving lives and protecting lives and honouring the challenge and supporting the challenge that people with mental health conditions, particularly young Australians have, focused solely and squarely on prevention and treatment and keeping people out of hospitals.


Right. A huge one obviously in Australia is obesity; we had yet another study out recently by a university suggesting the number one bang for your buck method here would be a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Would you ever look into this? At least hold an inquiry, see how it might work?


Well in fact we’ve gone further but without increasing the cost of living for Australians.

What we’ve just done is strike an agreement with the beverage makers or those that do non-alcoholic beverages, where there will be a 20 per cent reduction in their overall sugar content of all of their products over the period between now and 2025.

That’s what a sugar tax is designed to do but we’re doing that without the tax.

Now Labor might want to hike the price of food and drink, they might want to hike the cost of living for Australians; we don’t want to do that, but by negotiating directly with the makers of sugary drinks, we’ve been able to get a 20 per cent reduction – which is the goal of a tax – but without the cost of living impact on Australian families.


So, no to that. And the other one you mentioned actually was alcohol – because this wouldn’t cover alcoholic drinks. This same study said – I think it’s an 84 cent per standard drink tax would have a massive impact on our obesity, and obviously other health impacts as well. Is this something you’re open to?


Look, I think there were three taxes that were proposed in this study, it was a very tax-oriented study.

That was a tax on alcohol, a tax on soft drinks and a petrol tax and we’re not pursuing any of those taxes.

We’re trying to increase the ability of Australians to live their lives, decrease the cost of living pressure, which is exactly what Angus Taylor is doing today nationally with regards to electricity prices, but get the health outcomes through things such as directly negotiating a 20 per cent reduction in the sugar content of those soft drinks.


But that doesn’t apply to alcohol, right?


So real outcomes, whilst lowering the cost of living for Australians. We’re not proposing new taxes on anything.


Alright, fair enough. I’ll take that as a respectful no to that particular part of the study.

Finally, I know you’re a bit limited on time but I wanted to talk about probably something .


That is a respectful no.


This is probably one of the best parts of your job when you talk about new drugs that help people’s lives – I know there’s been a lot of announcements in these areas.

This one is being described as a new treatment for blood cancer, as a new era in medicine. I know this can cost up to $600,000 per patient though. So it’s been approved by the TGA - how are you going to get it out there to people that can’t afford a pretty hefty price tag?


So this is called CAR T therapy. CAR T therapy – it takes out of the body the T cells, it treats them, and then it reinjects them and for some blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma it can actually provide a cure.

It’s still in its early stages but it’s now been approved as safe by the Australian regulator. We will now work with the states and with the companies - and I’ve been I meetings with the companies.

I’ve taken this to COAG with the states - to bring CAR T to Australia, not just to treat these patients at the cost of the government through the hospital system which means both the Australian Government and the states will subsidise and meet those costs, but to make Australia a global manufacturing and treatment centre.

And so for our medical sector, this will put us at the cutting edge, but for our patients and our families this will give them a sense of hope and possibility of not just treatment, but a cure.


Right, just finally on this, obviously it’s been approved as safe. Do you need to make sure it’s going to deliver bang for buck? Because you’ve always got competing interests in these new and in this case very expensive drugs?


Yes, it’s currently going through what’s called the Medical Services Advisory Committee but I am extremely hopeful that having had the safety approval from the medical regulator, it will also get the strong support on effectiveness and we will, on our watch, in our time, provide breakthrough cancer treatment the likes of which Australians have never seen before.


Health Minister Greg Hunt, thanks for your time. Enjoy your break. I’m sure you’ll find a bit of time down at the Mornington Peninsula, your neck of the woods to read a few books.


Thanks Tom, looking forward to getting home and seeing the family.

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