Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 12070

The SPEAKER —I call the member for Fowler.

An opposition member—Not you, Chris!

Mr Ciobo —Which member for Fowler?

Mrs IRWIN (2:54 PM) —I like their sense of humour, Mr Speaker! My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister update the House on the late private health insurance participation levels?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Fowler for her question. I know it is an issue of interest across the community and I am pleased to be able to advise the House that private health insurance participation levels continue to grow and more Australians are taking out private health insurance. The latest Private Health Insurance Administration Council statistics that cover membership and data about the private health insurance industry were released on Monday and they reveal that there are now 9.82 million people covered by hospital cover with private health insurance. This is the highest number of people covered by private health insurance since March 1983.

The figures show that, since the election of the Rudd government, an extra 430,000 people now have private hospital cover and that coverage has increased half a percentage point, from 44.2 to 44.7. These figures demonstrate without question the strength and the resilience of the private health insurance sector, even during the financial crisis. This makes all the more ridiculous the claim made by the member for Dickson last year that changes to the Medicare levy surcharge would result in one million people leaving private health insurance funds. It was always a ridiculous claim, and the data makes it absolutely clear just how ridiculous it was.

It also highlights again the hysterical claims made by those opposite following the reforms to the private health insurance rebate that were announced in the budget. This fortnight the government will reintroduce into the House the legislation that was rejected by the Senate in September. This legislation is about making government support for private health insurance fair and sustainable into the future. We know that if we do not make these changes the current rebate will double as a proportion of health expenditure by 2046. In fact, we know that costs are already escalating. The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released a fortnight ago showed an increase of $276 million in rebate expenses since the forecast just in the May budget. This equates to an extra $1.1 billion over four years.

The changes that we have announced to the rebate, as many in the House would know, will provide a fairer distribution of benefits. I am sure one of the reasons the member for Fowler and those on this side of the House are interested is that it will mean that people who can afford to pay more for their health insurance should. We believe that private health insurance incentives should be being paid to support nurses, taxidrivers and secretaries to take out private health insurance, so that those who need the rebate to take out insurance will get it, not those like members of parliament or CEOs or millionaires who will take out their private health insurance irrespective of the rebate.

Unfortunately, these sentiments about making the system fairer are not shared by the member for Dickson. The member for Dickson and the Leader of the Opposition have been extremely ideological about this fight, but the data released today show that those ideological battles are ones of the past. This is about making our health system sustainable; support for private health insurance sustainable; support for those who most need our assistance able to be continued into the future. Our reforms are going to help protect the strong balance between the public and private health sectors, and of course they will save $1.9 billion over the next four years.

We believe in a quality health system for all Australians. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party only want a quality system for some Australians. But introducing this bill again into the House in the next fortnight will give the Liberal Party a second chance to rethink their support for a fairer system and better support for the taxidrivers, secretaries and nurses who need our assistance, instead of the CEOs, members of parliament and millionaires who do not need a private health insurance rebate.