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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2151

Ms MAYER —Has the Minister for Health seen the report in this morning's Age claiming that health fund contribution rates may increase early next year? In view of the criticisms made by the Opposition health spokesman that Medibank Private had kept its contribution rates artificially low for political reasons and was in no position to repay the $10m advance given to it by the previous Government, can the Minister advise the House on the experience of Medibank Private in the first nine months of Medicare?

Dr BLEWETT —I have seen the report in this morning's Age and I think it is no coincidence that such a report should be given such prominence two days after an election is announced. I am able to advise the House that private hospital charges will increase next year. This, of course, should surprise no member of the House because private hospital charges have increased every year; so there is nothing unusual about it. The one point that is worth noting is that throughout 1984 we have kept hospital charges stable. That did not occur under the previous scheme either in 1982 or 1983. However, whether those increased charges will flow on automatically to contribution increases depends entirely on the private funds themselves. We have deregulated the private funds-I am sure the honourable member for Mackellar will appreciate that-and it will be a decision for them. I am able to respond in relation to one private fund as this morning the General Manager of Medibank Private issued the following statement in response to the statement in the Age:

The front page report in today's Melbourne Age, which suggests private health fund contribution rates are set to rise by up to 14 per cent, is alarmist in nature and completely unfounded so far as Medibank Private is concerned.

I repeat: ' . . . is completely unfounded so far as Medibank Private is concerned'. In fact the General Manager was able to go on and announced this morning that:

The benefit delay for persons with pre-existing ailments would be cut from two years to 12 months for Medibank Private, and that would have immediate effect.

Mr Wilcox said:

This move was possible because Medibank Private's trading results since the introduction of Medicare have exceeded our expectations.

Again I point out--

Mr Carlton —There is a commitment.

Dr BLEWETT —I will come to the honourable member for Mackellar in a moment. I point out to him that Medibank Private has already repaid in August the $10m capital grant provided by the previous Government in 1978. Even more important for the future, the General Manager went on to say:

If present conditions continue, Medibank Private should be able to absorb most, if not all, of the projected cost increases in 1985 with minimal or no change to hospital contribution rates.

He added:

Earlier criticisms of Medibank Private's contribution rates as being set too low had been disproved. Across the Commonwealth they are the lowest of any rates .

But he denied in any way that those rates had been set too low. On the trading results, he said:

Evidence since the introduction of Medicare on 1 February 1984 and the efficiency of Medibank Private's operation shows that those rates were not set too low.

I want to refer to some statements on this issue made by the honourable member for Mackellar. He is, of course, the chief fantasist on the Opposition benches.

Mr Holding —That is the cleanest form of fantasy.

Dr BLEWETT —Yes, it is probably a polite statement about that honourable member, but on 14 December 1983 he said that we would force Medibank Private to keep the rates down artificially. On 24 August 1983, he said:

There is no way in the world that the Health Insurance Commission could legitimately or prudently send back $10m worth of reserves to the Treasury.

What he so confidently predicted 12 or 18 months ago has utterly failed to come to pass. Medibank Private repaid in August the $10m capital grant provided by the previous Government.

Mr Donald Cameron —Which State paid it? Come on, smart-Alik! Dr Goebbels!

Dr BLEWETT —As I predicted earlier this year-I know this is bad news and quite a shock to the Liberal Party--

Mr Keogh —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The honourable member for Moreton has referred to the Minister for Health as Dr Goebbels. While it might be appropriate to say that about some of his colleagues, I suggest it is not appropriate to say it about the Minister for Health.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I ask the honourable member to withdraw.

Mr Donald Cameron —I withdraw.

Dr BLEWETT —As I predicted earlier this year, Medibank Private has traded well and profitably since Medicare was introduced, to the point where it can look forward with confidence to 1985. Most important of all, it has disproved the quite scurrilous and malignant assertion that its rates were set too low simply for political purposes. I ask the people of Australia to make a judgment on anything said in the next eight weeks by a member who, whenever the facts have been achieved, as distinct from the rumours, has been proven to be wrong.