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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1508

Senator ADAMS (3:26 PM) —I rise to take note of the motion moved by Senator Colbeck. What is on the agenda? Tonight’s budget will double the income threshold for the Medicare surcharge from $50,000 to $100,000 for singles and from $100,000 to $150,000 for couples. This again proves that Labor is still ideologically uncomfortable with the private sector and has a heavy preference for the public system. What are the consequences for the taxpayers? The Rudd government is trumpeting that it has saved 2.4 million people from paying a Medicare surcharge. In fact, only 465,000 people have paid the surcharge and each one of them could have avoided it by taking out private health insurance.

A large number of sick people are already waiting unacceptable hours in public hospital emergency departments. People, especially our elderly, are waiting months for elective surgery. With the Rudd government changes to Medicare, they will now have to wait even longer. With the ludicrous threshold increases for singles, younger people will avoid taking out private health insurance. After all the work that has been done to encourage them to take out private health insurance, once again, they will abandon it and more pressure will be placed on public hospitals. This will force up premiums for those people who stay in private funds. Older Australians will also be affected due to these changes and possibly will not be able to continue to choose their level of private health cover which, at their age, is very important. For the two million uninsured people, there will be a tax break of up to $20 a week, straight into their pockets, but no further encouragement for them to get private health insurance.

The Australian Health Insurance Association expects that 400,000 young Australians will drop out of private health insurance. In today’s press, doctors and insurers warned that, as a consequence of this government’s changes, public hospital waiting lists will blow out as hundreds and thousands of young Australians ditch their private health insurance. Dr Michael Armitage, Chief Executive of the Australian Health Insurance Association, is convinced:

If people choose not to remain privately insured—and our modelling—

at least the Health Insurance Association could do some modelling but, unfortunately, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing today could not answer my question concerning the modelling of the Rudd Labor government—

shows that up to 400,000 people will not do so—

that is, continue in private health—

they will rely on the public system, which means the states will need to badger the Federal Government for more revenue.

The consequences for the states are quite amazing. Health ministers from WA, Queensland and Tasmania have already called for compensation from the Commonwealth if these changes are to be introduced. In the West Australian this morning, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, who is the national President of the Australian Medical Association, said:

You’d have to wonder if you’re setting up the states to fail as far as them being able to deliver across the public health care sector.

Professor Geoffrey Dobb, WA President of the Australian Medical Association, said the changes would cause elective surgery waiting lists to blow out and private health cover premiums to skyrocket. Unless the federal government is ready to provide extra funding to support Western Australia’s hospitals, they will be under siege if thousands of patients opt out of the private health system to be treated under the public system. I am a former member of the metropolitan hospital board, and we put into the system the Central Wait List Bureau. It was quite amazing, in the four years that that board existed, just how well we did with trying to get through the waiting lists. But, unfortunately, because of the hidden costs, there is a need for an interim long-term health reform plan to be put in place by the end of this year.

I just do not think this has helped the health system. In my home state of Western Australia it is going to be very difficult, and I am speaking about those rural Western Australians who have taken out private health insurance and are hoping that somehow they will be able to use it. It looks as if most of them will be forced to go back to the public system. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.