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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6832

Senator LEES (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. The minister is obviously aware, given her answer to Senator Knowles earlier in question time, of the fact that all state and territory governments have this weekend called for the private health insurance rebate to be scrapped. Given that the rebate is costing over $2.5 billion a year, if not over $3 billion, and that a large percentage of this money goes to people who already had private health insurance and would still have it without the rebate, and given that the very small reduction in admissions to public hospitals that she mentioned earlier was back last year, in 2001—this year in the first half of the year, they have increased by around 1.6 per cent—I ask the minister whether she will consider abolishing the rebate and instead putting this money, $2.5 billion to $3 billion, directly into Australia's health system.

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —The answer is no.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As the minister has given us such a short answer, I take it she is not even prepared to consider that the benefits flowing through to the public health system would be considerably greater if that money went directly into it. Firstly, will the minister at least commit to a review of the impact of the private health insurance rebate on the health of the most vulnerable Australians—in other words, the sickest members of our community—and look specifically at whether it would be better to means test and cap the rebate? Secondly, will she commit to looking at other methods of `restoring the balance'—and I quote from her answer to Senator Knowles—between the public and private health systems, such as a bed day subsidy for when private beds are actually used, so putting back the subsidy that the Labor Party scrapped some years ago?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —Here is what the Labor Party and Mr Crean said about the rebate:

We've said that this is now a big part of people's budgets and we went to the last election retaining the private health rebate. We won't be changing that.

There is the Labor Party's position. Now they are talking about changing it. Let me say that thousands upon thousands of people who are waiting in queues to get into public hospitals for surgery and other procedures have been able to get into private hospitals— a 12 per cent increase in patients going into private hospitals. The minus 0.6 per cent decrease in last year's figures—the AIHW figures that Senator Lees is referring to—is from a survey of, I think, 30 hospitals undertaken by the public hospitals association. The figures we are going on are last year's figures based on what the states give us, not on a survey of 30 hospitals undertaken by the public hospitals association. The rebate on private health insurance has actually made private health insurance sustainable in the future, enabling private hospitals to build more beds and deliver services to people who need them. (Time expired)