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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23522

Mr BALDWIN (9:15 PM) —Tonight I want to raise in this House the issue of health care for the constituents in my electorate of Paterson. On 18 August I raised in this House during an adjournment debate the fact that Medibank Private had issued a notice that, on 12 August, they were ceasing to provide private health insurance coverage for people attending Maitland Private Hospital. I tried to organise a meeting, as a local member representing his constituents would, between Mr George Savvides, the General Manager of Medibank Private, and the owner of the Maitland Private Hospital, Mrs Susan Ivens, in my office here in Parliament House. I was fairly disappointed when I was advised, in an email sent to me by Medibank Private, that:

Unfortunately it won't be possible for George Savvides to meet with Bob tomorrow to discuss matters surrounding Maitland Private Hospital. At this point in time, Medibank Private is not in a position to alter the present stance on the current out of contract situation with the Hospital.

While George has no problem catching up with you, there is currently as indicated no change in position on the matter, so it makes further consultation on the matter pretty difficult to achieve an alternate outcome.

What we are seeing here is bureaucracy standing in the way of provision of what people pay for. For constituents in my electorate who take out private health insurance—subsidised 30 per cent by taxpayers—Medibank Private is refusing to put a contract back into place for Maitland Private Hospital. This is a 62-bed state-of-the-art facility which was built in 2001. I fail to see how any health insurance provider can argue, with any rationale, that the cost of providing a rebate per bed night in one hospital is different to that in any other hospital.

What we are seeing is a drive for dollars by a supposedly not-for-profit corporation wanting to turn into a private corporation at the expense of the people in my electorate of Paterson. I will give you an example. A person in my electorate in a great deal of pain went to see a doctor. I will not mention names, Mr Speaker, because I know what you are like about that. The doctor put to that person: `We can get this fixed but you need to see a specialist.' The appointment was arranged with the specialist and, because of the speed required, they were told that they needed to go to a private hospital. That private hospital was Maitland Private Hospital. The patient went over there and met with his doctor. While he was lying in the bed, around came a clerk, who said, `Sir, I've got to advise you that your Medibank Private insurance does not fully cover you at this hospital and you will be up for a bed gap fee per day—just on the bed rate—of some $250.' That $250 did not cover any gap that might occur if that person had to go to surgery—and fortunately they did not have to. So what was the response when the matter was raised with Medibank Private? It was: `We don't have a contract with them and there are plenty of private hospitals.'

The case that I want to put to the government is that a person in pain, directed by a doctor to see a certain specialist and go to a certain hospital, is in no mental condition to argue with the doctor who is looking after their health care as to whether that hospital provides the medical insurance coverage that they have paid their money for. What we are seeing is a drive and determination by not only Medibank Private but also other private health insurers to look after their bottom line at the expense of the taxpayer and to the detriment of those constituents who pay out the extra to have private health insurance. I think that is an unconscionable act by the private health insurance industry in this country, and I would urge them to consider that those who pay the fees need to have support. It is no good arguing: `We will go to certain hospitals and you can travel,' because, when a person is put in the predicament of requiring access to that hospital and that doctor, the last thing they need to have is the financial pain of a gap to be paid.

Medibank Private uses the statement `I feel better now'—well, that is not the truth. People are worse off if they live around the Port Stephens, Maitland and Raymond Terrace area if they take out insurance with Medibank Private, because Medibank Private does not look after their interests. I will be urging all of those people in that area of my electorate to change their health insurance provider to somebody who will cover them at Maitland Private Hospital. I think that we need to reconsider the whole aspect of private health insurance in this country to make sure that people get what they pay for when they pay for private health insurance and to make sure that the taxpayers who support the 30 per cent rebate also get a better deal. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —I point out to the member for Paterson that the standing order covering names applies to questions only, not to debates or to answers.