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Transcript of Melbourne Doorstop

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Melbourne regarding the Australian Government's $250 million investment to list four cancer medicines and private health insurance.

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

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Well, welcome everybody to the extraordinary Peter MacCallum Centre. This is not just one of Australia’s, but one of the world’s great treatment centres for patients with cancer. We have research here. We have treatment here.

We have breakthroughs here. We have lives saved, lives extended and lives improved here. To Dale, to you and your team, I want to thank you for everything you do.

When you travel around the country people talk about Peter MacCallum. Overseas, Peter MacCallum is looked at not just as an Australian centre of excellence but as a global centre of excellence and that is a real tribute to each and every person who’s here including Professor Ricky Johnstone and Professor Tam.

I met Dr Green and so many others who are helping our magnificent patients. Patients today such as Sam and (inaudible), Julie, that I was speaking with who’s been an ambassador for more research into oncology in cancer. And so we're very privileged. Dorothy, who's fighting a very, very successful battle against lymphoma.

So, today is a breakthrough day for cancer treatment in Australia. We know that up to 48,000 Australians might lose their battle with cancer in any one year. Over 137, 000 can be diagnosed with some form of cancer.

But with leading medical research centres such as Peter MacCallum, Australia is leading the world in survival rates. But we want to do more. We want to lift that to better levels, to higher levels, more people to survive, more people to have better lives and better quality of outcomes. As part of that we've been listing one new drug a day under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

And this is something you can only do if you’ve got a strong economy, and it's a guarantee that is rock solid and absolute which the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Finance Minister and myself have all made that if the medical experts recommend it we will list each new medicine.

As part of that process, today I am delighted to announce four new medicines for treating cancer will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from the 1st of August. Its total cost of $250 million dollars and it will help save and protect the lives of thousands of patients each year.

In particular, Ibrutinib will be listed, which would otherwise have cost $134,000 a year for patients – beyond the reach of the vast majority of Australians. And this will help with mantle cell lymphoma and it’s a breakthrough medicine which will now be within the reach of each and every patient that has the appropriate condition for either $39.50 or $6.40 a script.

What we also see is we’re expanding the range of conditions for Opdivo to include head and neck cancer, and this would cover over 1000 patients and it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars for this medicine, which again would have been beyond the reach of the vast majority of patients.

We have an extension of Pegasys, and Pegasys will help patients with rare blood cancers and over 1100 patients are likely to benefit from Pegasys and Neulasta, which would otherwise have cost almost $5000 a year for patients will help 1500 patients who have been struggling with their conditions because of the impact on their immune system of the chemotherapy.

This will help improve the white blood cell count, which will make for better quality of life and improved immune systems for patients with cancer. But it will also mean that they can improve the frequency of their treatment in some cases, as we just discussed.

So, at the end of the day, four new medicines, thousands of patients, saving lives and protecting lives, a blockbuster day for cancer treatment in Australia. Happy to take any questions.


There you go. We’re very lucky to have Julie Macrossan as ambassador in chief.


Do you know how many patients I guess across Australia these four drugs will help, in total?


All up, we'll have between 4000 to 5000 patients. I did have some indication from one of the doctors that there may be in the blood cancer space many more than had previously been anticipated. So, at this stage we expect between 4000 to 5000 thousand patients but it could be many more on the basis of new information provided just today.


(inaudible) mentioning these drugs have cost $130,000 a year. What would this really mean to these families who have been probably using some of their life savings to buy these drugs?


Well for many families they've had to use their life savings and it means that they'll be able to be treated without an expense that's simply beyond their reach.

For some families, they could never have accessed these medicines so this will give lifesaving or life changing access to families who could either never have afforded it or where it would otherwise have literally broken the bank of individual families.

So, you can boil it down to two things: hope and treatment. Hope and treatment. That's what the PBS is about.


Do you think emotions will be high in many families today after this announcement?


I hope there are many families who will be able to take a big sigh of relief, a sigh of relief on financial grounds but most importantly on health grounds. I suspect there'll be a lot of smiles and a few tears.


Minister, can we just ask you about the private health changes that [indistinct] for sharing in terms of the new policy (inaudible). Can you just outline exactly what would be included in each of those policies (inaudible)?


Sure. So, what we’ll see is that there will be four categories and these simply bring together the existing 70,000 policies. So, it categorises each of those policies against the full bands - gold, silver, bronze and basic.

I know that the ALP wants to effectively knock out the basic categories but that would lead to a 16 per cent price hike in private health insurance, which would drive hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, out of private health insurance.

What this means is that we take the existing policies, no change in price, no change in coverage, but we make it simpler so as everybody can see in one page exactly what is in place. And that means that, in particular, there is an expansion in coverage for women.

There's been a disparity in the past between coverage of men and women for different types of cancers. So, it's another important day for cancer treatment for women in relation to gynaecological cancers and breast cancers. They will, for the first time, be mandated across the bronze and all other coverage.

And in relation to pregnancy, I do want to make a note that there will be no change in cost. There was one report and that was inaccurate.

So, no change in cost for any policies but expanded coverage for women. And then the great thing is: no surprises. Until now, most people have struggled in a mix of 70,000 policies and often numerous pages in your own policy to understand what's in, what's out.

It will all be clear: a simple, single page which says what's in, what's out. You can choose, and for the first time, people will have real power over their own private health insurance coverage.


So to clarify, the reports that pregnant women won’t be covered by the lower tiers. You’re saying that is incorrect?


It's incorrect in the extent that existing policies are being categorised according to their coverage. So that is exactly what's happening here. So, it's not that there’s any change in the nature of the policy.

What would that policy have been previously? It's now being grouped together so as you can see. One of the challenges was many men and many women beyond childbearing age were actually being covered for pregnancy when obviously there was no need for that.

And every woman who currently has pregnancy coverage or who will be applying for it will not pay a dollar more. I've had that guarantee from the private health insurers. We've ruled it out. There was an error in that report.


But for people looking, who may consider becoming pregnant in the future: how’s it fair that they have to pay for high levels of coverage?


No, they'll pay exactly what they would currently be paying, so no change in that.


But if they don't have coverage?


No, no, anybody entering we'd pay exactly the same. So no change in the cost to pregnancy. That was an error, and that from the particular newspaper. But no, no problem. My job is to make sure that the facts are very clear and the facts are that we're bringing down the cost of private health insurance by up to 10 per cent with discounts for young people.

Labor's policy to rip away the rebate from lower cost policies will increase costs by 16 per cent, so up to 10 per cent decreases under the Coalition.

A 16 per cent increase under Labor's policy to rip the rebate away from lower cost premiums, and no change in the cost of any policies as a result of gold, silver, bronze but an expanded coverage of women’s health conditions.


Minister, premiums went up 4 per cent this year so what can the Government do to prevent any further rises above that CPI?


Well this is an important thing and the comparator has always been against the cost of health services themselves. And what we've seen is that we've just delivered the lowest change in 17 years. We're driving to ensure that that is even lower again.

A 16 per cent rise under what the ALP is proposing, and up to 10 per cent discount under what we're proposing.


A Choice investigation has found many prams don’t pass safety standards. Do you think the federal government should do more to protect parents against unsafe products?


I think that's an important study. I'll be referring that to the Standards Body to have their advice on that. I welcome the work of Choice and I will be referring this to the Australian Standards Body to ensure that there is immediate and appropriate follow-up.

So, this is a good example of a consumer body doing important investigative work. I'm happy to take one or two more.


Minister, is it acceptable that health fund members paid $600,000 for CEOs to attend an all-expenses paid conference in Portugal?

And when private health insurance premiums have risen?


So, this is a matter for the individual firms to explain. I'll leave that to them but it's important to say, make it clear that this was not a government conference and there was no government funding involved.


Does it seem fair? Does it pass the pub test?


Again, I will leave that for the individual firms to justify and to explain.

Okay, thank you very much.

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