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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7184

Mr BUTLER (Parliamentary Secretary for Health) (11:42 AM) —On indulgence, I would like to join the previous member in expressing the government’s condolences to the family of the doctor that he spoke of. We know that medical professionals all around the country do extraordinary work and often work very long hours, drive long distances and put themselves in danger in helping others maintain their health and wellbeing.

I thank members for their contributions to this debate. Though I note the opposition’s support for this bill I also note that the member for Dickson continued to exhibit an incapacity to stay on the topic. The fact is that the industry are great advocates of this measure and it is important that all members of the House are very clear about that fact. The Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 will amend the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 and the Age Discrimination Act 2004. The amendments will permanently allow private health insurers to offer extended family policies that cover people aged 18 to 24 inclusive; who do not have a partner; are not studying full time at a school, college or university; and where the fund rules of the private health insurer provide for this group.

Private health insurers developed extended family policies to encourage 18- to 24-year-olds to continue their health cover into adulthood. Under the Private Health Insurance (Complying Product) Rules 2008 No. 3, transitional arrangements were made to allow these extended family policies to continue until the end of this year—31 December 2009. The bill will allow the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 to allow insurers to permanently offer extended family insurance policies. In essence, this measure will enable private health insurers to continue to provide a type of product which will encourage younger people and their families to maintain private health coverage.

This government has consulted health funds, and I would like to thank all of those who have offered their input. I note that in its submissions the Health Insurance Restricted Membership Association of Australia has been constructive and supportive in moving this proposal to fruition. I note in particular that that association has stated that it welcomed the proposed amendments. HIRMAA’s support is particularly important due to its unique historical and contemporary links to various professions, trades, industries, unions, employers and geographic regions, and I thank the association and its members for its valuable input.

The Australian Health Insurance Association has also expressed its open support for the proposal, which only goes to show that, while we may disagree from time to time, we do continue to work together where we can. I am pleased that the AHIA:

… endorses the proposed legislation and congratulates the Australian Government on the policy initiative.

It goes on to say:

This important policy change will allow funds to continue to support the health care needs of younger Australians.

I welcome the broad support of the insurance sector and anticipate that this measure will assist in providing downward pressures in premiums, which is especially important in times of economic uncertainty like these.

The bill also amends the Age Discrimination Act 2004 to provide an exemption from any unlawful age discrimination under that act which may arise from allowing a higher premium to be set for extended family policies. The bill also includes consequential amendments to the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 consistent with the introduction of the Private Health Insurance (National Joint Replacement Register Levy) Bill 2009, which imposes a levy upon sponsors of joint replacement prostheses in order to recover the costs of maintaining the National Joint Replacement Registry.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.