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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1084


Senator PATTERSON (3.22 p.m.) —I was amazed, as were my colleagues, by Senator Crowley's answer to Senator Herron's question. She said:

For a start, a number of the people dropping out of the private health insurance system are people who are young and healthy or people at any age who are healthy. They are people who are currently making no demands on private health, not using it, and sensibly making a decision not to use it. Of course, these people will not be a demand on the public health system; that is well understood. Senator Herron understood that more than most.

Two years ago my local newsagent came to see me about an old lady who had been coming into the newsagency for about seven years. Over that period she had experienced arthritis in her hip. It got to the point where she could only just walk with the aid of a frame, and she struggled down to the newsagency. He said to her, `Why don't you get something done about it?' She said, `I have been on a waiting list.' That waiting list has been shortened since the Liberal government has been in office in Victoria. The newsagent said to me, `Is there anything you can do about it?' I said, `One thing you can do is change the government so we can at least get the health system right and get her into hospital so that she can have a total hip replacement.'

  Senator Crowley forgets—she has finally admitted this now although she did not do so when answering the question—that the price of private health insurance is pushed up by young people leaving the private health system because the people who remain are more likely to use it. Young people who suffer injury, perhaps as a result of an accident on the football field, or illness, are likely to require acute care. Those who have left the private system will go straight into the public health system. What will happen to an older person needing a hip replacement or a cataract operation? That person will be pushed further back down the line to wait. So, every young person who does not have private health insurance and has a need for acute care will go into the public system and will take up a place that could be used by an older person. Senator Crowley is saying that that has no effect at all on the health system. She is wrong again, as she always is.

  When one looks at the Private Health Administration Council's report, one sees that it says that the largest current drop-outs are families—some of the largest users of the health system—rather than singles. That is very significant. In fact, there was a slight increase in the number of singles taking out private health insurance. What you see, Senator Crowley, with the system you have got now is pensioners—


Senator McKiernan —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. Senator Patterson seems to have forgotten very quickly the standing orders. Just a short time ago she referred in a point of order, when Senator Crowley was speaking, to the fact that the speaker on her feet was not addressing the chair. Senator Patterson is now making that same error and I would ask you to draw her attention to the standing orders.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Thank you for bringing it to my attention.


Senator PATTERSON —I was just seeing whether the other side was on the ball. Senator McKiernan is, but Senator Crowley is not, but that is no news to us. I was addressing the fact that private health insurance actually saves the public purse. It also ensures that people who are in genuine need have access to health services.

  The other point is that Senator Crowley said that there is not a crisis in health insurance. She needs only to talk to small rural hospitals or some of the private hospitals and private health insurance schemes. The Telegraph Mirror was absolutely right when it said that what was an imperceptible trickle in the number of people dropping out of private health insurance is now a flood. The editorial said:

Public health care has been a tenet of ALP policy for 20 years. But in the face of conclusive evidence that the system is on the point of collapse, it is commonsense to encourage private participation as a means of sharing the load.

Many people understand the value of private health insurance. All one has to do is talk to those pensioners whose capital gain on their shares is being treated as income for the purposes of assessing their pension. I have received innumerable letters in my office from pensioners who say, `The reason I have got a small parcel of $20,000 worth of shares is that I want to be able to pay my private health insurance. I want to keep my capital at a level during the next 10 or 15 years of my life that I can take out private health insurance.' Why do they want to do that? Because they do not believe that when they need a cataract replacement, a total hip replacement or a total knee replacement—not acute care but treatment for a chronic condition—they will have to go on a waiting list because of this government's appalling management of Australia's health system.