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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 854

Private Health Insurance

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (14:54): My question is to the Minister for Health, Ms Plibersek. Will the minister update the House on the government's plans to make the private health insurance rebate fairer for Australians?

Ms PLIBERSEK (Sydney—Minister for Health) (14:54): I thank the member for Fremantle for her very important question. Many Australians benefit at different times in their lives from benefits like the family tax benefit to help raise their kids, Austudy when they are studying and perhaps the age pension as they age. What these benefits have in common is that they are means tested so that the greatest benefit goes to the people who need them most.

The private health insurance rebate acts in exactly the opposite way. The greatest benefit goes to the people who need the least help. Take the example of a bank teller who is on $50,000 a year, a bank executive who is on $500,000 a year and the head of the bank who is on $5 million a year. They each get exactly the same rebate if they have the same private health insurance. What is even worse is that the people on the higher income are likely to have more expensive insurance, so they are going to get a greater benefit from taxpayers. If the teller cannot afford private health insurance on $50,000 a year then her tax dollars subsidise the private health insurance rebate of the person earning $500,000 and the person earning $5 million a year.

The total cost of this private health insurance rebate is about $5 billion a year, and if we do not make these modest changes that leave around 20 million Australians unaffected we will see the cost of this private health insurance rebate blow out by $100 billion over the next 40 years.

Mr Hockey: Forty years?

Ms PLIBERSEK: Yes, $100 billion over the next 40 years. Have a look at the Intergenerational report, Joe—you should have a look at it.

Other ministers have spoken about what is happening in Europe and what is happening in Greece and, concerned as we are about what is happening in Europe, and Greece in particular, there is a lesson to be drawn from what happens if governments are too timid to rein in runaway spending in areas like this. We need to make sure that every health dollar counts and that every health dollar matters, and we can spend those health dollars doing things like we are doing in the member for Fremantle's electorate, like creating more training places for nurses.

Mr Tehan: Mr Speaker, can I seek some clarification? My understanding is that this bill is before the House—

The SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?

Mr Tehan: Yes, a point of order.

The SPEAKER: What is the point of order?

Mr Tehan: The point of order is that this bill is before the House and therefore cannot be debated currently.

The SPEAKER: I consider the anticipation rule to have had a lot of faults. The minister is being relevant and she has the call.

Ms PLIBERSEK: The sort of investment we can see is $1.4 billion in elective surgery, doing things like upgrading the keyhole surgery facilities at Manly Hospital, or doing things like putting $650 million into GP superclinics, as in the electorate of the member for Dickson, where patients have access to GPs, specialists, nurses, pathology, X-ray and ultrasound, physiotherapy, podiatry, dietician services, psychology, audiology, chiropractic services and Indigenous health services.

We have seen a lot of slip-sliding from those opposite. They will not commit to changing this if they come back to government. They will not commit to repealing the means testing because they cannot afford it. (Time expired)