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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3433

Mr PORTER(5.23) —As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the thrust of the Health Legislation Amendment Bill will be to increase health insurance costs for people carrying private insurance and thereby force more people out of private insurance and on to public hospital waiting lists. Therefore, I move:

That all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

`whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that it unfairly discriminates against hospital patients with private insurance who will receive only 75 per cent of the scheduled fee for medical services, while Medicare patients will continue to receive 85 per cent, so forcing up the cost of private insurance and assisting the Government's objective of forcing more Australians out of private health insurance and making them wait in pain for up to 2 years in the 100,000-long queue for public hospitals beds'.

When selling the Medicare program to the Australian people in the 1983 election, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) did so with the assurance that, under Medicare, he would make private insurance more affordable. Having suckered the nation with that commitment during the past four years, he has done nothing but make private health insurance more expensive and indeed less affordable. He has done so in several different ways. Since the Medicare program started, both the Federal Government and the State governments have hit the privately insured. For example, the fee for a private patient staying in standard ward accommodation in a New South Wales public hospital has increased from $80 a day, when Medicare started in 1984, to $120 today. This morning, the State Minister for Health announced a further $10 a day increase to $130 a day. These increases mean that the cost of ward accommodation to the private patients of New South Wales public hospitals has risen by more than 60 per cent-almost 20 per cent a year. This has contributed to the increases in premiums for the privately insured. Secondly, this Government has reneged on its funding commitments and has withdrawn money from the private sector. Two examples of that include reducing the Commonwealth contribution to the hospital reinsurance fund by $99m a year and eliminating the $140m a year Commonwealth subsidy to the patients of private hospitals.

The third way in which the Government has driven up the cost of private health cover is by eliminating benefits from the private sector and today we are debating another such move. Another $100m is to be taken from the pockets of those who voluntarily contribute to the Australian health system through their premiums, because it becomes more and more vital as public hospital beds become less and less available under Medicare. I cannot believe that this Government, as the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) said in his second reading speech, `gave careful consideration to the Medicare arrangements'. I cannot believe that this was the only way it could figure out how to save $100m a year out of Medicare. Fundamental changes to Medicare will result in a much more efficient and equitable system-a system where patients will actually gain access to hospital beds when they need them, resulting in enormous savings. As I have said, if we had just managed to hold the substantial increase in the number of services per patient delivered under Medicare and if we had managed to hold the number of services to the pre-Medicare level, we would have saved $600m a year alone. Instead, the Minister has chosen to attack only the privately insured and only when they are in hospital receiving the most essential of services. It is a cowardly attack without regard for fairness and equity.

The result of these repeated and continued financial attacks on the private health sector has been a rapid rate of increase in the cost of private health insurance. Immediately prior to Medicare, an average wage earner was paying $9.66 a week for his medical and hospital cover. Currently, the same wage earner is paying $14.30 a week for his Medicare and private hospital cover. To that he can add up to another $1 a week as a result of the amendments we are considering today, which means that the cost of health cover under this Government has increased from $9.66 to around $15.30-an increase of $5.60 a week, almost 60 per cent, in the three years under the Medicare program. There has been a 60 per cent increase in private health costs in the three years of the Medicare program as a result of the previous changes taken together with the changes in this legislation. It is no wonder that families cannot make ends meet under Labor.

As a result of this Government's policies, single income families with dependent children have been confronted with massive increases in costs and a reduction in their disposable income. Let us consider the average family. The tax of a family on average weekly earnings have increased by $37 a week. Their health costs have increased by 60 per cent or $5.60 per week and their average housing repayments have increased by $37.50 per week. Disregarding double counting in relation to the Medicare levy and the tax increases, in just those three areas of tax, health costs and housing repayment increases, families are $75 per week worse off under a Labor Government than they were four years ago. In addition, as a result of this Government's economic policies, which have caused substantial increases in the consumer price index, families have faced substantial increases. Of course, the CPI is a measure of increases in the cost of food, clothing, footwear, education and private health costs-and I refer to health costs not covered by Medicare and private insurance. All of those substantial cost increases have further reduced the available income for families. As a result of four years of Labor Government families are finding it extraordinarily difficult to make ends meet. This legislation will make it even more difficult for the substantial number of families who have private health cover. It ought to be remembered that nearly 60 per cent of families with dependent children have private health insurance, so we are not talking about a minority as the Minister would like to be the case. He would like to drive everyone out of private health insurance, to have all doctors on a salary and to have everyone covered by Medicare only. That is the ultimate goal. By forcing up private health costs to ensure that people can no longer afford private health cover, he is going about it in the right way. He is determined to force people out of private insurance and to force them into Medicare, and into the public hospitals which cannot cope.

Let me remind the Minister of what has happened under his Medicare policies. Of the total number of families-which is 3.8 million-before Medicare 2.8 million or 73 per cent had private insurance. As a result of the introduction of Medicare that number has fallen to 57 per cent. More importantly, before Medicare was introduced, 84 per cent of families with dependent children had private insurance. As a result of Medicare and the increases in the cost of private insurance, the number of families with dependants taking out private insurance has dropped to about 64 per cent. There has been a decline in the number of families, especially those with children, who have private insurance. Nevertheless, a majority of families with dependants appreciate that Medicare will not deliver the health care which they need and want for their families. They have seen through the Government's promises and they have realised that Medicare will not deliver hospital care when they need it. They are aware of the 100,000 Australians who are waiting for public hospital beds and they are saying: `We are not going to allow our families and our children to be subjected to those sorts of delays in urgent health care. We will not make them suffer in pain while they wait for hospital beds because the Government's Medicare policy does not work'. They have paid more and more out of their private pockets while continuing to pay their Medicare levy in order to fund this Government's Medicare program which does not provide the services which they need.

As I said, this legislation is another step down the Government's determined path to drive people out of private insurance into the Medicare net. No matter what pressure the Government places on them, Australians will not give up their private health insurance. They will do as much as they can to resist that pressure. As I have indicated, some have been unable to continue to pay their private health insurance premiums and they are suffering. Of course, they are the ones on the long public hospital queues. Pensioners and other people have great difficulty in maintaining their private health insurance cover and that is why it is the low income families, the pensioners and the disadvantaged in our society who are subjected to the long public hospital queues. Those who can afford, in spite of this Government's policies, to maintain their private health insurance have access to the empty private hospital beds. The Opposition's policy will enable more people to gain access to those empty private hospital beds. We will reduce the public hospital queues by reducing the demand on the public hospitals. We will have a truly fair and equitable health system. We will have a health system where people can receive medical and hospital attention when they need it.

We know why the Government persists with its Medicare policy. It believes that, if it changes the policy, once again it will show that the policy has failed, so it sticks like grim death to the existing policy. There is no doubt that the Government cannot afford the cost of Medicare and, if it is re-elected, which it will not be, it will be forced to change it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr Nehl —Mr Deputy Speaker, I second the amendment and I reserve the right to speak later.