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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3404

Senator NEAL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Family Services. Are you aware that Medibank Private is preparing an application for premium increases of $190 a year for top cover for a family? Has Medibank Private provided advice to the minister of this proposed price rise? In light of Dr Wooldridge's desire expressed on the 7.30 Report , to have the full benefit of the tax rebate passed on, will he be refusing the application of this government-owned health insurer?

Senator NEWMAN —I am advised by the Minister for Health and Family Services that the story in yesterday's Australian —which appears to be based on a rumour—that Medibank Private is to propose a premium increase was drawn to his attention. I am also informed that no such application had been received by his department and, of course, the timing of such premium changes would be commercially sensitive. The minister would consider proposed increases from any fund after consultation with the Prime Minister and Treasurer and, if the minister believed that they are justified having regard to the prudential financial management, he would not disallow them.

I am also advised that past increases for Medibank Private all occurred during the previous government. Medibank Private last increased its premiums in Victoria in November 1995, in all other states except Western Australia in May 1995 and in Western Australia in October 1993. Medibank Private is subject to the same price pressures as the industry generally, including the 39 per cent premium rise brought about by the former government's policies. It might well seek to increase its premiums to meet prudential solvency requirements and, if it does so, it will be treated on exactly the same basis as any other fund.

Senator NEAL —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. The Prime Minister also made the following comments:

I think people in the industry ought to understand that we will be looking askance at applications for increases during the currency—

of the inquiry. Further, he said:

I would be disappointed if there were any further applications during the time the inquiry is going on.

In light of—

Senator Hill —On a point of order, Madam President: this is an interesting little speech, but it is certainly not a supplementary question.

Senator Faulkner —On the point of order: I notice from the clock there is a considerable amount of time allowed for Senator Neal to complete her supplementary question.

Senator Hill —To ask her question.

Senator Faulkner —To ask her supplementary question and complete her supplementary question. I would ask you to rule her question in order.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator NEAL —In light of the Prime Minister's comments regarding his views about applications for increases in premiums during the time of the ongoing inquiry, if an application was received from Medibank Private for an increase, would the minister approve such an application?

Senator NEWMAN —I do not have anything to add to the very detailed answer I gave Senator Neal before. She should go and study the Hansard .

Senator Hill —Madam President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .