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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 3031

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health) (10:29): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Private health insurance is an essential and valuable part of Australia's health system. This government is committed to making private health insurance affordable for the more than 13 million Australian families, young people and older Australians with private health cover.

People with private health insurance have the benefit of their choice of doctor, timing of treatment and, in many cases, shorter waiting times. They also obtain coverage for some health services not included under Medicare.

Last October, I announced the most significant package of private health insurance reforms in over a decade to make private health insurance simpler and more affordable for Australians. The reforms will help strengthen the viability of the private health system by addressing concerns about affordability, complexity and lack of transparency of private health insurance.

The private health insurance reform package was the result of extensive consultation, including through the Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee and with a wide range of organisations representing service providers, hospitals, insurers and consumers.

The reform package has already resulted in lower premiums for consumers. From 1 April 2018, health insurance policyholders will face an average weighted premium increase of 3.95 per cent; the lowest premium change in 17 years—lower than any year under the ALP's previous government by a considerable margin.

And, of course, the government continues to spend over $6 billion per year on the private health insurance rebate which helps to make private health insurance affordable.

I am introducing three bills today:

the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2018;

the A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Amendment (Excess Levels for Private Health Insurance Policies) Bill 2018; and

the Medicare Levy Amendment (Excess Levels for Private Health Insurance Policies) Bill 2018.

The first bill I want to introduce is the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2018.

This bill will amend the Private Health Insurance Act 2007(the act) and associated legislation to support a number of the reforms I announced last year.

Specifically, this bill will:

allow for discounts of up to 10 per cent for Australians under 30 years of age for hospital cover, which will help bring young people into the private health system and provide them discounts right through until they are 40 and, in some cases, beyond;

strengthen the powers of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman;

allow private health insurers to cover travel and accommodation costs as part of a hospital product for people attending health services, in particular benefiting Australians in rural and regional areas;

improve information provision for consumers;

reform the administration of second-tier default benefits arrangements for hospitals;

increase maximum excess levels for products providing an exemption from the Medicare levy surcharge; and

facilitate the termination of closed products and migration of people to new products.

This bill will also improve consumer transparency by removing the use of benefit limitation periods in policies and ensure that consumers who have purchased benefit limitation period inclusive policies since the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 was introduced do not need to repay premium rebates they have received, are not retrospectively liable for the Medicare levy surcharge and are not liable for lifetime health cover loadings.

I thank all of the members of the House for their work in supporting this process. I particularly thank all of the consumers and policyholders who have provided feedback and all of the members of the advisory committee. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of Rachel David and Matthew Koce, representing both small and large insurers right across the spectrum. Also, the hospitals and the device makers. The MTAA has played a critical role in the ability of Australians to have the lowest change in premiums in 17 years.

I specifically want to acknowledge the work of my principal adviser, Alex Caroly, in my office, who has moved heaven and earth to help bring about these reforms to ensure not just that private health is more affordable but that there is better mental health coverage, better rural and remote coverage and better transparency in terms of simplicity.

Above all else, I want to note that it is essential for the health of our nation that we continue to maintain a strong and competitive private health insurance market. The proposals from those on the other side of this chamber, for what would amount to a 16 per cent increase in private health insurance costs by taking away the most affordable entry-level private health products, would be utterly devastating to private health insurers, therefore to private hospitals and therefore to public hospital waiting lists.

By contrast, we believe deeply and passionately in the Australian hybrid model, which ensures that people have choice, people have the ability to elect into private health and, from that, they also have peace of mind. That protects our system and it protects individuals. Therefore, the measures outlined in this bill will support these reforms and that system.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.