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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30364

Mrs HULL (2:31 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister update the House on how Australia's public health care system has benefited from the increase in the number of Australians who have exercised their right to choice and taken out private health insurance? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies in this area?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question. I am aware that, after the release of the exceedingly good Private Health Insurance Administration Council figures, there has been some criticism, particularly coming from the opposition, which is hardly surprising. The opposition seem unimpressed that more revenue is going into the public hospital system from private health insurance companies. In doing so, they really miss the point. That point is that, certainly in the last seven to eight years, public hospitals have lost an incredibly important revenue stream that had always been part of their overall operating budget. This was recognised by all state and territory health ministers and it was recognised by former Labor Party health ministers.

Secondly, the health care agreements are worked out in many ways on the figures of the uninsured population. Insured people tend to use private hospitals and, as I said yesterday, the number of people not declaring their insurance status has dropped very dramatically. New South Wales is doing well in this respect, with schemes reported to be in place for public hospitals to actually cover the gap so that it will be more attractive for insured people to use public hospitals. If you actually look at funding going to hospitals on the basis of the uninsured population, which is how it has traditionally been looked at, we get some very interesting figures. I got my department to take these out and I am happy to table them. If you look at constant 1997-1998 dollars, the fact is that in 1993, when Labor signed their last health care agreement, the average dollars per uninsured patient was $426. Over the life of the health care agreement that Labor signed that went to $394 per uninsured patient, a decline to the states of 7½ per cent. Compare that to 1998-1999, the first year of our health care agreement: $425 per person uninsured, to $592 at the end of the health care agreement 2000-2003, an increase of nearly 40 per cent. So there is a very stark contrast here: a 7½ per cent decrease over the life of Labor's health care agreement to the states per uninsured patient; a 39.2 per cent increase over the life of our health care agreement; the sort of increase per uninsured person never previously seen.

Arising from comments recently, I have challenged the Labor Party recently to rule out tinkering with the 30 per cent rebate. I have challenged them to rule out grandfathering it, to rule out taking it off ancillaries, to rule out applying it only at the base level premium, and on a number of other things, and pointedly they have refused to do so. Today in the Australian the member for Jagajaga again commented and, after being challenged by the government to rule these things out, all she would say was that Labor would keep the 30 per cent rebate. That is not the point. Keep it in what form? Labor have refused to rule out tinkering with it and have refused to rule out emasculating it. Labor do not like it and, given half a chance, they will destroy the private health rebate, as they did under the Hawke government and under the Whitlam government.