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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2070


Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Does the Federal Government acknowledge the importance of the principle of community rating for health insurance in Australia and, if it does, is it at least in part because this system allows the aged and the sick ready access to health fund cover? Is the Minister aware that this principle is being threatened by the growth of discriminatory commercial insurance companies offering policies which exclude people once they turn 65 years of age? Can the Minister say what action, if any, the Government is planning to take to ban these discriminatory practices and hence protect the interests of the aged and the sick in the community?


Senator GRIMES —Yes, Mr President, the Minister for Health, the Government and I support the principle of community rating for health insurance. It is a principle which, of course, was supported many years ago by the Liberal and National parties also. The importance of that principle is that we can share across the community the burden of health costs in general. It means that those who have recurrent illnesses or who are unfortunate enough to have serious illnesses-none of us are immune; none of us can be sure we will not get such illnesses-can get access to health services at a reasonable cost when they need them. It also means that medical catastrophes which overcome people will not break and destroy families. Therefore, it would be of concern to me and to the Government, and I am sure to the Minister for Health, if we had a proliferation of schemes which were discriminatory in this way. I certainly do not want the situation to arise in this country which applies in the United States, for instance, where people who have paid health insurance for many years may have heart attacks, myocardial infarctions, then have others and find their insurance is cancelled because they are no longer good risks for the insurance company. That can have a devastating effect on a family, including its economic position, or for that matter an individual.

A health insurance scheme which allows the insurer to exclude those who are likely to have recurrent illnesses, including those who are aged and therefore likely to have such illnesses-that is, all but the good risk patients-will inevitably throw a greater burden on those who are poor, aged or sick. It inevitably means that we end up with a user pays type principle whereby the users are the poor, the sick and those with children, and their costs increase considerably. So I certainly view, and I am sure the Government views, with great seriousness any proliferation of such schemes. I have not been briefed about or noted in recent times the apparent proliferation to which Senator Haines refers. I will certainly refer the matter to the Minister for Health and get her a full answer as to what action may or may not be taken in this area.