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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15121

Mr QUICK (9:12 PM) —Private health insurance premiums are increasing, putting private health insurance beyond the reach of many Australian families. Even the government's 30 per cent rebate is not helping reduce premiums to an affordable level. My electorate office has been flooded by calls from constituents whose private health insurance premiums have increased by alarming rates. Although the government claims it permitted an average increase—I repeat `average increase'—of just 7.4 per cent, many of my constituents are facing increases as high as 50 per cent. It is obvious that the government's 30 per cent rebate is not working. We saw that within six months of the introduction of the rebate all health insurance premiums increased by the amount of the rebate. Since then, the increases have continued without any let-up.

Recently, in February this year, I surveyed constituents in four of my suburbs on private health insurance. The results show that 96 per cent of the sampled respondents have private health insurance, 68 per cent reported an increase in the excess they have to pay, 60 per cent reported a decrease in benefits paid by the fund, 81 per cent said private health insurance was not value for money, and 93 per cent said the gap between hospital charges and benefits paid was increasing. The survey was undertaken before news of the current premium increase was released, so even at the old rates people were unhappy with the benefits provided by their private health insurance company; even at the old rates it was not considered value for money; even at the old rates the gap between what the hospital charged and what the insurers paid as a benefit was considered too high. Sharon of Geilston Bay said:

Private health insurance is going up all the time and I feel as a young family that I can't afford not to have it but I really can't afford it ... it just makes things very difficult for low income earners who want to have peace of mind to be insured.

Mark and Angela of Geilston Bay said:

We withdrew from private health cover due to increasing costs.

Nadine of Blackmans Bay said:

Having achieved compulsory health insurance, the funds are now hiking up fees and simultaneously cutting benefits. How fair is that?!! It's disgraceful.

These are just a few of the many responses received and they came before the current round of increases.

I come now to the average 7.4 per cent increase. The Government Employees Health Fund does not seem to fit the average of 7.4 per cent touted by this government. Alfred Graves of Bellerive has a 51 per cent premium increase, from $175.05 to $264.85. Alfred is a pensioner who has been in private health insurance for over thirty years and who can now ill afford it. The premium increase for Jack Cantrell of Howrah is 70 per cent. Jack has also been a long-term subscriber to private health insurance and wants to continue, but he cannot at these rates. The Government Employees Health Fund says the increases are a result of a bad product and apply only to Tasmania and Queensland. It is disgraceful that the government can know of the magnitude of these increases but publicly promote an average of 7.4 per cent.

Jack and Alfred may be able to find other insurers, but Rodney of Acton cannot. The premium increase for Rodney is over 50 per cent, but he has cancer and no other fund will take him on. One wonders what use his lifetime loyalty and subscription to private health insurance has been. It is scandalous that a health fund has been allowed to increase its premiums by such a large amount that its members will be less likely to stay in private health insurance. Surely this defeats the purpose of lifetime cover.

Most subscribers to private health insurance pay by direct debit. Direct debit allows the premiums to be deducted in instalments from bank accounts, and the system also allows increases to be automatically adjusted for. Of course, the increases have never been as large as 50 per cent. Both Alfred Graves and Jack Cantrell did not have enough money in their accounts to pay the increased premiums. Both were subjected to a dishonour fee by their financial institutions—a fee since paid, as it should have been, by the Government Employees Health Fund. How many others have been hit with dishonour fees because the premium increases have been so enormous? How many people will just cop it, because they do not know they can complain? The Government Employees Health Fund and the government should get together and work out a fairer deal for Tasmanians and Queenslanders hit with these massive increases. The premiums must be reduced and all members so affected must be told that dishonour fees incurred will be paid by the fund itself.