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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18751

Mr BALDWIN (5:42 PM) —I rise today to bring to the attention of the House the issue of private health insurance and the fact that many people may not be aware that they are not fully covered by their private health insurance policy to the extent they think they are. This issue has been brought to my attention by Mrs Susan Ivens, Managing Director of Maitland Private Hospital. Mrs Ivens was served notice on 12 August that Medibank Private will terminate her agreement for services provided at the Maitland Private Hospital from 11 September.

Firstly, let me describe Maitland Private Hospital. It is a brand-new 62-bed state-of-the-art facility built in 2001. Maitland Private Hospital has two operating theatres and includes two birthing suites. As I said, it is by all accounts a first-class, fully accredited facility—a facility that is a real bonus in a regional area like Maitland. It has really made an impact on hospital waiting lists and provides great benefit to communities in and around the Maitland area.

The letter outlines discussions with Bruce Levy and provides 30 days notice that, in accordance with clause 13 of Medibank Private's HPPA, they are terminating fully fund-ed services at the Maitland Private Hospital. It further states:

The failure of Maitland Private hospital to provide obstetric Services to our members has been critical to our decision. Whilst we acknowledge the reasons you have outlined for the lack of obstetrics services at the Hospital, the issue remains significant in our assessment of current members choice providers in the Hunter Valley Region.

I am a contributor to Medibank Private and no-one has bothered to ask me whether I want to have these services at Maitland Private Hospital. I do not remember any survey asking whether obstetrics are important at the hospital of my choice. The letter further states:

As a non contracted facility, you are able to charge our members an amount in addition to the benefits that you will receive from Medibank Private.

In a press release issued on 15 August it would appear that Medibank Private's keeper of conscience, chief operating officer Simon Blair, is prepared to continually take the membership fees of my constituents and yet is prepared to penalise them with gap payments when they need help most. What this means in effect is that my constituents will be forced to pay in excess of a $200 per day gap fee to be at Maitland Private Hospital. My constituents do not need to feel financial pain when they are in physical pain. It makes a mockery of Medibank Private's slogan `I feel better now'. For the constituents in my electorate surrounding Maitland Private Hos-pital, it is more like `I do not feel so good now.'

For example, someone who needed or chose to use one of Maitland Private Hospital's six palliative care beds and is insured with Medibank Private will get, under these non-agreement benefits, a contribution of $305 per day for a private room and $285 a day for a shared room for the first 14 days, and then only $235 for a private room and $225 for a shared room. So in 14 days the additional fee, which would be paid in full by other insurance providers, would amount to around a $2,800 gap fee for a private room and, if a person were there for 21 days in palliative care, the gap would be around $4,200. I bet the penny pinchers at Medibank Private feel rather proud of themselves when they treat like this people who trusted them with their insurance.

Medibank Private has claimed Maitland Private Hospital's failure to provides services as the reason for terminating its contract. As I said, the service in question is obstetrics. Mrs Ivens has stated that the issue is the cost to practitioners for specialists' insurance for private obstetrics at a private hospital. But it gets more interesting. Medibank Private states that management had indicated obstetric services would be made available, yet the continued lack of obstetric services led to the termination of the contract. Medibank Private has implied that Maitland Private Hospital did not deliver on the contract. On the advice provided to me, Maitland Private Hospital did not mislead or deceive Medibank Private in relation to these obstetric services. In the contract there is no express mention of obstetric services. Their establishment or any reliance on them by Medibank Private amounts to an unconscionable bullying action. No conditions are implied or expressed regarding the continued contract being predicated on the establishment of obstetric services; in fact, specific services are not defined in the contract.

But what makes this whole situation a farce is that Maitland Private Hospital does have obstetric services established—those being antenatal, post-partum and planned caesarean sections. To the hospital's credit, the concern of the hospital is for the safety and care of its patients—unlike Medibank Private, which is only interested in ripping the dollars from people when it has no intention of providing full coverage. Maitland Private Hospital has taken the decision to provide specific obstetric services that do not include vaginal delivery and emergencies due to the availability of paediatricians.

I fail to see where obstetrics matters to those past child-bearing age who are more likely to be looking at hip replacements or treatment for a stroke. Where does obstetrics come into play for a single male membership? As I said before, what would it matter to someone in palliative care? Simply put, it does not. What these constituents do not need is obstetrics. What they do need is a very good, clean and efficient hospital, and that is what Maitland Private Hospital is—but it does not stop there. The lack of full obstetrics does not seem to be a problem for other private health insurers either, as I am informed that all other insurers are covering to the full bed rate at the hospital.

In a press release on 15 August, Medibank Private's Mr Blair said:

... the conclusion of the contract with Maitland Private Hospital was regrettable. A high level of access to alternative private hospitals in the region existed for the company's Hunter based members. As a result, Medibank Private members will only be marginally affected by the fund's decision.

I am glad that a city dweller in Melbourne with no understanding of regional and rural areas believes that members will only be marginally affected. Medibank Private membership comprises about 11 per cent of the population in the area. I can guarantee you that the 11 per cent in my area `don't feel better now'. The release goes on to state:

Medibank Private members can continue to access other private hospitals.

Further on it says:

This includes the Toronto Private Hospital, which is co-owned by the operators of Maitland Private Hospital. Members accessing these facilities will not face the potentially increased out-of-pocket expenses that may occur after September 11.

That is right; for the other private hospital that Mrs Ivens owns, Toronto Hospital, Medibank Private will continue to offer full cover. Guess what, Mr Deputy Speaker? Toronto do not provide obstetric services either, but they have been offered a full contract.

There is no difference between Maitland Private Hospital and Toronto Private Hospital, so why is this the case? A person in a bed costs roughly the same in any of the approved hospitals. It is just discrimination and a rip-off to help their bottom line at the expense of contributors in my electorate. This inconceivably petty, tight-fisted decision by Medibank Private will force those in my electorate unfortunate enough to have Medibank Private insurance to travel to other areas for their health treatment, and that is a further inconvenience to my constituents. For example, the closest private hospitals are Tamworth in the north, Forster in the north-east and of course Newcastle to the south. Transport services are not always available for people to travel those distances. Already constituents have contacted me in relation to their Medibank Private health insurance asking what they can do. It is simple: they should cancel their membership with Medibank Private. They should transfer to a provider that does cover them in the hospital of their choice—remember that word `choice'?

I am not advocating what brand of insurance people should take out but simply that, if their insurance provider does not fully cover them at their local private hospital, they should find an insurance provider that does. Private health insurance is subsidised by the federal government to the tune of 30 per cent, at around $2.3 billion per annum, in an effort to take the pressure off our public system. The actions of Medibank Private will put further pressure on Maitland Public Hospital and increase waiting times.

Quite clearly, as a family subscriber to Medibank Private health insurance, I do not feel better now and in fact I will be examining other providers and checking to make sure that my family will be fully covered at our local private hospital of choice, Maitland Private Hospital. I will be advising people in my next community newsletter of the pitfalls of not choosing an insurer that provides coverage and urging them, in the case of those around Maitland Private Hospital, to dump their Medibank Private insurance and turn to someone who is reputable and cares about their medical welfare. My question to Medibank Private is: when will they inform all of their affected members that their tight-fisted, more-concerned-about-dollars-than-patients attitude will deny them fully funded access to Maitland Private Hospital? As I said I, like many in my electorate, don't feel better now—and Medibank Private should be ashamed of their discriminatory and unconscionable actions.