Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009; Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2009; Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Bill 2009
It is now official: this is a tricky government. In fact, it is a mean and tricky government—mean and tricky because it has taken away this benefit to the Australian people and tricky because it has also increased the surcharge levy so that people have no choice. The people who have taken responsibility for their own health will have no choice. So it is official: it is a mean and it is a tricky government. It is also official that it is a government that tells untruths. On no fewer than five occasions, the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, have said that this would not happen. In fact, there was a categorical ‘Absolutely not’ from the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, when he was asked in an interview in August 2007 whether or not he was going to take off the rebate for private health funds. A letter to the AHIA clearly said:
Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates …
Kevin Rudd, in a press conference in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard on 25 February 2008, said:
The Private Health Insurance Rebate policy remains unchanged and will remain unchanged.
Then we have the statement from Nicola Roxon, when she was the shadow minister:
On many occasions for many months Federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing private health insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 to 40 per cent rebates for older Australians. … The Liberals continue to try to scare people into thinking Labor will take away the rebates. This is absolutely untrue.
Ms Roxon, now the minister for health, told the Age on 24 February 2009:
The Government is firmly committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates …
They are mean and tricky and proven not to be able to tell the truth.
When I look at issues of great effect in my community, I look at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital in particular, a hospital that simply will not be able to meet the demands that the change in hospital treatments will produce. We saw back in 1996 a levelling out of hospital treatments, of public hospitals basically having the same treatment patterns as private hospitals. Then, as a result of the Howard government’s rebate and their commitment to ensuring that Australians, if they wanted to pay for choice, could actually pay for choice and would get compensated and get rebates for that, we saw an exponential growth in in-hospital treatments by private hospitals. It was a huge growth. Fifty-five per cent of malignant breast condition treatments were done in private hospitals, 55 per cent of cancer therapy was done in private hospitals, 55 per cent of hip replacements were done in private hospitals, 63 per cent of other major joint replacement and limbic reattachments were done in private hospitals, 70 per cent of same-day mental health treatments were done in private hospitals and 73 per cent of lens procedures were done in private hospitals.
Can I go into lens procedures. We have seen the intention to cap many of the EMSN, extended Medicare safety net, benefits. Some of those will be to do with pregnancy issues, obstetric issues and reproductive issues. They will be varicose vein surgeries and cataract surgeries. We know that in communities, and particularly those communities with a significant Indigenous population, cataract surgery has restored the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people. What we are going to face now is not just a capping of the extended Medicare safety net; we are now going to see introduced—it has not been introduced yet but it will be introduced—a 50 per cent reduction in the rebate for cataract surgery.
Let me clearly explain that in Wagga Wagga Base Hospital the Greater Southern Area Health Service has cut the theatre lists back to three cataract surgeries per month. The waiting lists have blown out. Up until the end of last year, people waited about three months to get cataract surgery done in Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. Now that those surgeries have been cut back to about three per month, that has blown out to 11 months. This is for one particular ophthalmologist. Many of his colleagues have much greater extended waiting lists, if we are just talking about cataract surgery. The waiting list grows by about two months every month. So we have a system now that will bring people back into the public hospital system, which we can certainly ill afford in my electorate of Riverina.
The Wagga Wagga Base Hospital simply cannot cope as a regional referral centre. It is an ageing, decaying mess. The staff in Wagga Wagga Base Hospital do an absolutely sensational job trying to do the right thing by the patients. In fact, they are working double standard overtime to do the right thing by the patients. But for 30 years the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital has failed to get the attention of any government, whether state or federal, coalition or Labor—certainly over the last few years it has been the Labor government. What is happening is a disgrace. Now we are going to have an even greater call on that hospital. In my electorate of Riverina I have 65,607 people covered with private health insurance, and we have been in drought for seven years—something’s gotta give. The fact is there is going to be a major impact on the public hospital system in my electorate of Riverina. I sincerely believe that there must have been many ways in which we could have avoided this.
I believe that there was always the intention to cut private health insurance. In all of these great statements that were made publicly, there was one person who maybe told the truth. That was Peter Garrett, when he stated, ‘Once we get in we’ll just change it all.’ That comment was made to Steve Price on 2 November 2007. It appears that is exactly what the government has done. The government has taken the Australian people to be fools. The government is mean and tricky. The government has taken a choice away from the Australian people. The government will blame the economic downturn for this, but I believe it would be the view of the Australian people that the government cannot tell the truth, did not tell the truth and has never supported private health insurance. When we were in government, the then opposition—the now government—absolutely, vehemently opposed the 30 per cent rebate for so-called rich people. There are 65,000 people in my electorate who are not rich; they do not make the list of Australia’s richest. I believe the government in this case has got it absolutely wrong.