Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2012, Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2012, Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Bill 2012; Reference to Committee
I am quite proud to speak on this motion, because what we just heard from Senator Feeney is a complete misrepresentation of the importance of private health insurance. In fact, one of the reasons we need to have an inquiry into this matter is to dispel those myths—in fact, those quite blatant mistruths—by the government. Let us go back to the history of why this is a rebate and not a tax deduction. Just like Medicare is universal—and Labor made such a point of that—the previous government introduced the private health insurance rebate as a rebate, not a tax deduction. The reason it was introduced as a flat-rate rebate and not a tax deduction was to guarantee that it would be worth more to lower income earners. If it were a tax deduction, like it was previously, it would have been worth more to higher income earners. This rebate guarantees that the millions of people Senator Fierravanti-Wells mentioned—whose household incomes are less than $30,000 and less than $50,000—will be helped to keep their private health insurance.
This is what Labor are all about: they actually wants to punish those who invest in their own health care. It is just like they have always been with education: they do not like people being able to invest in their own health care. The private health insurance rebate ensures and triggers further private investment in health care. It increases the overall pool of money being spent on health in Australia, and we know from the work of the Productivity Commission and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that private hospitals treat 40 per cent of all patients in Australia. In 2009 and 2010 private hospitals admitted 3.5 million patients, and they perform most of the elective surgery in Australia. That is what Labor do not like. They want everyone to have to join the queues that they did so much to make longer at the state level over the last decade. The dream of the Labor Party is a national health service—a British-style national health service. The very balance that Neal Blewett designed into the Medicare system, which protected private health insurance and made the rebate that we as citizens get for a medical procedure not dependent upon the venue in which that procedure was performed, is supported by the private health insurance rebate. The rebate guarantees that, regardless of your income, you receive a flat amount to support you investing in your own health care, to support you taking pressure off the public system and to support you freeing up those resources to be used by those who are more needy. As I said, it was all about making it a rebate so that it would be of more value to lower income earners.
What the government does not want people to know is that every one of those households that Senator Fierravanti-Wells talked about—those who are earning less than $30,000 and $50,000—is going to pay more for health insurance because of this bill. We are going to have tens of thousands of people drop out. The government does not want to tell us, because Treasury will not do the modelling and release it, but we have heard from Medibank Private and we know from other players in the sector that this is actually going to mean that the young and the healthy will drop out. It will reduce the quality of the pool of people in private health insurance, and that will mean that the increases in private health insurance costs in coming years will be higher than they otherwise would be. When it comes to the carbon tax, the government does not like to have such comparisons. It likes to pretend that it lives in a world where its assertions are the truth. But they are not, and we know that.
What this Senate needs to do is to ensure that the mistruths—and potentially even the misunderstandings, Senator Feeney—that are put around by the Labor Party and their allies on this, and the dirty deal that was done in the lower house, are exposed so that the people know why they are getting a 10 per cent increase rather than a seven per cent increase in their bill next year. We are talking about the people on below average incomes—the people who save for their own health care because they see it as something that is good for them, good for their families and good for the community. Those people should have the right to know exactly why their premiums are going up faster than they were in previous years. They are going to go up faster because the Labor Party needs to fill various budget black holes that it has created, and it is continuing its 30-year war against the private health industry—the industry that performs the majority of elective surgery in Australia. Why on earth we would want to reduce that, I do not know. It is not like the state hospitals that have been run by the Labor Party for so long are doing such a fantastic job—with the tragedies we heard about in New South Wales and Queensland. It would be a travesty if these bills were not exposed. It is wrong that Labor and its Greens alliance partners are willing to ram this through. We will ensure that all the Australian people know the exact consequences of this legislation.