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Thursday, 27 June 2013
Page: 4407

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (22:44): I will just make a couple of very quick comments in relation to the Private Health Insurance Amendment (Lifetime Health Cover Loading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment (Base Premium) Bill 2013. The first question that has gone unanswered tonight is: what period of grace is there for fund members after the end of June with this transition? No grace period options have been discussed and no grace period options have been given. The minister must immediately—tomorrow—come out and say what grace periods there are.

I do just want to follow up a couple of quick quotes from my colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells. There was one from the unelected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, at his press conference on 25 February 2008:

The private health insurance rebate policy remains unchanged and will remain unchanged.

Again from the unelected Prime Minister, in a letter to the AHIA on 20 November:

Both my Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, and I have made clear on many occasions this year that Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates, …

Absolute rubbish! Another broken promise.

My colleague also referred to HIRMAA. HIRMAA is the Health Insurance Restricted and Regional Membership Association of Australia. It is the peak industry body representing all 13 restricted insurers and a number of non-restricted access regional private health insurers. Since its formation in 1978 HIRMAA has advocated for the preservation of competition, believing it is fundamental to Australians having access to the best value healthcare services. I want to congratulate HIRMAA on their strong advocacy on behalf of member funds and members.

I have a letter from HIRMAA in relation to these bills. They wrote to me and said, 'Dear Senator, I am writing to express our strong opposition to two bills to be shortly debated in the Senate.' They are referring to these bills. The letter continues: 'The impact of these two further changes to private health insurance will have detrimental consequences for the private health insurance industry and consumers. If passed by parliament these legislative changes will lead to a significant number of Australians discarding or downgrading their PHI. Inevitably this will lead to additional pressures on the public health system, a system already under considerable stress and overload.'

To their letter to me they attached a copy of their submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. They spent a lot of time talking about the impact on low-income earners, who will be the ones who suffer the most. I will just very quickly read this:

The impact increases with the higher the level of rebate policyholders currently receive, resulting in lower income earners (those not in the means tested tiers) being the most disadvantaged by the proposed changes. It has been estimated by a typical HIRMAA fund that this impact will amount to an average 8.4% premium increase in the first year of implementation (commencing 1 July 2013). For those with significant loadings, the premium increases will be much higher.

…   …   …

The measure provides a disincentive to everyone without PHI who is over 31 years of age from purchasing PHI. … For those policyholders who are paying a LHC loading, removal of the rebate on the LHC loading component for those who are close to having held hospital cover for 10 years will most likely be perceived by these policyholders as being grossly unfair …

There are a number of matters raised in this report, and what I do want to say is that there is this ridiculous notion of the Australian Labor Party and the unelected Rudd government about who is going to suffer the most from this. As Senator Fierravanti-Wells said, 5.6 million people with private health insurance have an annual household income of less than $50,000. This is not private health insurance for the rich; this is private health insurance for those people that the Australian Labor Party pretends to represent!

I will take you through some of the funds that HIRMAA represents, who happen to represent the very unions that these people opposite come in here and say they are there to protect. Perhaps I will just go through a few for the minister: Defence Health, Navy Health, Police Health, Teachers Union Health, Railway and Transport Health Fund Ltd, and Transport Health. These are funds that are run by those in a variety of industries, including teachers, police and Defence personnel. These are not rich Australians—these are Australians who have decided to take out private health insurance. The Australian Labor Party, for no reasons other than philosophical reasons, wants to rip this apart.

We should have no doubt about what this matter relates to. The Australian Labor Party and the unelected Rudd government have made it quite clear from all their actions and their legislative program that they want to destroy private health insurance. I say to those members of private health insurance funds who are listening or who will be reading this debate, if you want to protect your right to have private health coverage you must ensure that the Australian Labor Party and the unelected Rudd government is not given the opportunity to further reduce private health coverage and increase private health coverage costs. As sure as night follows day, on the back of what they have done they will just take it further and they will not be happy until they have destroyed private health insurance.

I make it absolutely clear that the coalition has a heavy heart in not opposing the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment (Base Premium) Bill 2013, and the heaviness of our heart relates to the fact that the Australian Labor Party, the unelected Rudd government, has left this nation in a position where these changes are being forced through as a result of the last budget. I want people to reflect on the unelected Rudd government's rationale for leading us into this position. I need to go no further than GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch and $2.4 billion of failed pink batts insulation. I hear the minister say, 'Oh dear.' 'Oh dear' it is that when you first came into government this nation was debt free. In six years you have loaded onto our children and our grandchildren $360 billion of debt—$360,000 million of debt. They stand utterly condemned for what you have done to this country; you stand utterly condemned for what you have done to private health insurance. You no longer represent working men and women in this country, because working men and women in this country are members of the funds I referred to before. You stand utterly condemned.