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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 793

Senator WOODS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. In view of her last answer, I point out that I will try to keep this question very simple. Does the minister have confidence that the proposals announced yesterday by the minister for health regarding private health insurance will in fact make private health insurance a worthwhile and attractive option to average Australians and their families? If so, will she give a definite undertaking to take out health insurance herself? Will she also give an undertaking to encourage her colleagues to do likewise?

Senator CROWLEY —As to the first part of the question: yes, absolutely. I have all the confidence in the world that these changes will allow the private health insurance industry at last to get into the business of providing competition, of providing alternative packages and of delivering a product that will be sensitive to consumers and not to themselves.

  The changes that the minister announced yesterday have a lot of prospects. It is now over to the industry to see if it can deliver what it asked to be able to deliver. Under this government's commitment to competition, to taking away the regulations that were fettering the industry and to micro-economic reform, the private health insurance industry now has the opportunity it wants. The reason it will do it is that it will be beneficial to consumers. This is a policy that will help the consumers. So there is no doubt about it. I have every confidence in the world. Of course, if the industry fails, on its own head be it. But that is not what Mr Russell Schneider is saying today and it is not what the private hospitals say. They anticipate that this will be a great opportunity for the industry and, of course, therefore consumers.

  As to whether or not I or anybody else takes out private health insurance, I regard that as a matter of private choice. I have said it before in this place and I will say it again: I do not believe we should ask people to answer in this place about their private affairs.

Senator WOODS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. So much for a vote of confidence, I must say. Is the minister's reluctance related to the fact that, as she pointed out yesterday, the costs of private health insurance will actually go up in some instances because of the costs of funding private beds in public hospitals at a higher level, which is not the situation now? Is it the fact that there will be less choice, as documented by a number of experts in the field, as a result of the proposals announced yesterday? Is it the question of 300,000 people currently in closed funds being out in the open market and that a number of them will fall by the wayside and the costs therefore to the average person will increase? Is it the fact that we have not seen any of the fine print? Is it the fact that health funds themselves will now oversee and interfere in the clinical management of patients—an announcement made yesterday by Minister Carmen Lawrence? Or is it just that Minister Crowley really does not have the confidence in the proposals to put her money where her mouth is?

Senator CROWLEY —It is a pathetic, longbow to draw. I have every confidence, as I have said. As I said to Senator Woods yesterday—I note that within one day he is already misrepresenting what I said—one of those changes by itself, for example removing the restriction against gap insurance or removing the bed subsidy for private beds in public hospitals, would contribute to increasing the premiums. Absolutely, but not under this package of proposals. It is not under this package of proposals and that is why I have every confidence that the private health insurance industry, knowing that it has to win customers by reducing premiums, will be doing that.

  The industry will be targeting its packages. It will be producing special packages. It will be trying to contract with hospitals and with doctors. That is what it is about. That is what it wants to do. Any one of the things Senator Woods says misrepresents what this package is about. Yes, I do have absolute confidence that these proposals will reduce the costs. There is no doubt about it. I am interested in the fact that the health policies of those opposite have put them where they are: over there on the back bench in the Senate.