Thursday, 22 June 2006
Health Legislation Amendment (Private Health Insurance) Bill 2006
The government has considered very seriously the opposition amendments to this bill. However, it cannot support the opposition’s amendments for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman already has the power, with the complainant’s agreement, to refer a matter to the ACCC or another body if, in the PHIO’s opinion, it could be more effectively dealt with by the ACCC or another body. Also, the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman is already required to consult with the ACCC in relation to restrictive trade practice matters. The opposition’s amendments do not enable the ombudsman to provide more effective consumer protection beyond the measures contained in the bill before the Senate tonight.
Secondly, there is some doubt about whether a constitutional basis exists to allow the ombudsman or the minister to refer, and the ACCC or other body to inquire into, health care provider charges. This is because the ACCC’s prices surveillance role relies mainly on the corporations power, and specific provisions in the trade practices legislation expressly limit the ACCC’s powers to ensure that it remains within its constitutional limits.
Lastly, and most importantly, the ACCC already has a role, under the trade practices legislation, in relation to misleading pricing, price fixing and price surveillance. However, the ACCC is not a price-setting body for retail goods and services. As the health industry is characterised by a large number of participants, monitoring would be extremely costly and is unlikely to be warranted on the grounds of competition. The proposed amendments could lead to increased charges to the consumers of health care provider services. For the above reasons, we cannot support the amendments that have been moved.