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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 173

Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (10:57): I am very pleased to speak on the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, which is very important. There are 10.6 million Australians who have some form of health insurance. In my electorate of Boothby, 76.3 per cent of voters are covered by private health insurance—either hospital cover or extra cover. In the previous six years, we saw people who hold private health insurance under constant attack from the Labor Party. Those 10 million-plus policyholders saw the value of their private health insurance constantly under attack. When Labor left office in 1996, the private health insurance industry was in a terrible state. When Labor left office in 2013, again they left the industry in a terrible state. They went to the 2007 election promising not to change the private health insurance rebate; yet in every budget when they were in government the Labor Party changed the rebate and reduced support for private health insurance. They broke promise after promise on private health insurance, putting the sector under significant pressure and creating uncertainty.

The coalition government are now cleaning up the mess left by the Labor Party, ensuring that private health insurance is sustainable and affordable. Given Labor's damaging policies, all insurers last year sought increases in their health insurance premiums. These applications were thoroughly scrutinised to ensure that each increase was justified. Over 2013, there was an eight per cent increase in benefits paid to health fund members, increasing pressures on the insurers. The premium increases will assist the industry to absorb these costs and will end the uncertainty created by Labor. A strong and viable private health insurance sector is necessary to ease pressure on the public health system. That is what this side of politics has always believed—that there is a very strong role for private health insurance.

Under the Howard government a number of changes were introduced to have sustainable private health insurance, including the private health insurance rebate and Lifetime Health Cover, which was introduced by the Howard government on 1 July 2000. This has been an important part of private health cover reforms that significantly increased private health insurance coverage. The intent of Lifetime Health Cover is that if you stay out of private health insurance after you are 30 you will pay an increased premium each year that you are out of private health insurance. This was intended to ensure that people take out private health insurance at an early age and maintain their cover.

From what we have seen, we can assure the 10 million Australians who hold private health insurance that they will have certainty, sustainability and stability in this. People who hold private health insurance—and who rely on it for visits to physios, dentists, optometrists or speech pathologists, for hospital cover and for maternity—can be sure that it will be sustainable under this government. You will see a sustainable private health insurance. We on this side believe that private health insurance has a very important role in taking pressure off the public hospital system.