Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 [No. 2]

Second Reading

5:02 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution in support of the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 [No. 2]. The government provides in the order of $4 billion annually in private health insurance premium rebate subsidies. The latest figures published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that government outlays on private health insurance premium rebates unfortunately are rising rapidly year by year. For example, in 2007-08 the total value of the subsidy increased by 13 per cent, and in the five years to 2007-08 the total value of the subsidy increased by almost 40 per cent.

For approximately every $2.30 raised by private health funds by way of premiums, the government puts in a dollar. By any measure this is a very high taxpayer subsidy to support a private sector activity. Approximately 50 per cent of the total value of the government’s private health insurance premium rebate flows on to the private hospital sector, about 10 per cent flows on to private medical practitioners and another 10 per cent is used to subsidise health fund administrative costs. No-one should argue that the government does not have a duty and responsibility to make certain that the payment of this level of government financial subsidy support is fair and sustainable. However, as the Minister for Health and Ageing has stated, aspects of the present private health insurance premium rebate subsidy arrangements do not meet these objectives and need therefore to be changed.

A major pillar of social policy in Australia for over the past 30 years has been the Medicare scheme. We should all be aware that the coalition’s resistance to the measures contained in the proposed legislation is directly related to a long history of deep-seated antagonism within the Liberal and National parties to public universal health insurance and publicly funded health care. The coalition may feign support for Medicare, but whenever they are put to the test the true position of the coalition unfortunately stands out in lights. The coalition have an ideological hatred of the Medicare scheme, and that is why they will vote against this bill.

The position being taken by the coalition on this bill demonstrates the peril that Medicare faces whenever a coalition government is in power. Coalition governments, as they have demonstrated over the past 30 years, will, whenever they have the opportunity, continue to chip away at the foundations of the Medicare scheme.

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