House debates

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Constituency Statements

COVID-19: Private Health Insurance

11:22 am

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Private health insurance premiums are up 30 per cent under the Liberal-National government, and, with record out-of-pocket costs, when care is needed hospital cover is at its lowest level since 2007. Private health has played an important role in the response to COVID-19, and that should be acknowledged. Private hospitals have been a very important element, and I thank them for it. But Australians have every right to question whether there is more that should be done to get value for money out of private health insurance. Of course, during this pandemic, elective surgery ceased for a period. It has started to return. Around a quarter of elective surgeries will be able to resume from late April. There will be a plan to gradually resume all activity, but this will take some time. Also, very understandably, many Australians have ceased going to allied health care professionals while the pandemic is on, so Australians have had less value out of their private health insurance during this pandemic.

Again, I recognise that private health insurers have delayed their three per cent premium increase this year by six months. I want to make it very clear: I do not think that that increase should be automatic. I think private health insurers need to justify to the minister, in light of the changes during the pandemic, why that increase should be continued and applied at all. I think Australians need to know that they're getting value for money out of private health insurance.

There has been some work done by the Australia Institute, for example, which shows billions of dollars' worth of savings to private health insurers. I'm not saying that that's how it will pan out, given the pandemic has perhaps moved through more quickly than had previously been estimated, but it is undoubtedly the case that premiums have continued to be paid and payouts have been less. Some private health insurers have indicated they'll be given back to their members in some form. I welcome that. But we need to see the meat. We need to see how this is going to happen. We need to see the details, and part of the conversation, as I said before, should be whether the three per cent increase should apply at all.

In due course, we are going to get statistics from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority which will indicate the full degree of savings to the private health insurers, but we know that this government has fiddled with private health insurance. The minister promised a second wave. Well that's one second wave we do want to see—a second wave of reform. That's one second wave we do want to see, and we haven't seen it. The minister hasn't delivered further private health insurance reforms.

Many Australians are doing it tough. Some Australians have had to cancel their private health insurance. Others have kept it in difficult circumstances, but they do not need to be hit with a three per cent increase unless it is fully justified. I'm making very clear the view of the alternative government: that should not be automatic. It should be justified in light of the changes over recent months.