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Transcript of interview with Leon Byner: 5AA Adelaide: 17 June 2016: Medibank Private ACCC allegation; Coalition's private health insurance policies; Labor's announcement for stroke survivors

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SUBJECTS: Medibank Private ACCC allegation; Coalition’s private health insurance policies, Labor’s announcement for stroke survivors.

LEON BYNER, HOST: Catherine good morning. What's your reaction to what Rod Sims has alleged?

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Well look these are very, very serious allegations, you are of course correct to point out they are allegations yet to be tested in court, but you don’t get much more serious than the ACCC accusing a company of misleading conduct and unconscionable conduct. Particularly as you remember this has occurred in the context of the privatisation. The fact that people with - members of Medibank Private have complained that they had their cover changed without due notice and it only came to light for many of these people when they got a bill. Not obviously before they had been admitted to hospital and particularly patients who had just been readmitted to hospital, as Rod Sims has said. This is a very serious allegation and I think there is a lot that is going to be said about this. We warned when the Government took the decision to privatise Medibank Private, the Government told us this was going to be good for consumers, that premiums would be lower, that consumers were at the heart of their decision. Now, clearly that is not the case. Clearly what was at the heart of their decision was maximising the return on the sale of Medibank Private and there's something, really, that we have to very cautious about here. We warned about this, there's no evidence that the sale, in fact, has been good for consumers and I think this serious allegation I think now, is going - there's going to be a lot to be learnt from this as it goes through the process.

BYNER: Whilst you're not a consumer adviser, there would have surely been discussions within your party as to - if consumers are not happy about this and what is being alleged by the ACCC's Rod Sims is true, then what kind of reconcile have those members got? We don't really know that, do we?

KING: No, and look, we've certainly put out - there's a couple of things. I mean, the penalties that the ACCC has a capacity for the ACCC to actually investigate consumer complaints, it really does need more resourcing, we actually need to see greater penalties, I think the penalty unit for these sorts of breaches is about a million dollars, we've said it needs to be increased substantially, so penalties are important. But this

really goes to the core of the values of this Government's decision making. We've seen it wants to privatise Australian Hearing, it has privatised Medibank Private, putting a very big player into the marketplace of private health insurance, we're seeing it's just recently entered a contract with Telstra for the first time for the register that has all of our pap smear data, we've just heard them - they've been - they have a task force to look at privatising the Medicare payments system, they've signalled they want to see private health insurance more in the primary care space. This is a real pattern in terms of this Government and there are reasons that we actually have entities in public hands with good governance - public governance structures in place. That's not to say the private sector can't do a good job in some of these areas but this really seems to be this pursuit of profit in the health space can be a very, very sensitive issue. This Government doesn't seem to care about that, it just seems to be about maximising profits.

BYNER: Ok, I want you to just answer what Sussan Ley said in this email I read out saying that your flippant dismissal of their plan to shine a light on small print and introduce standard levels of cover.

KING: Well, what she has done is in fact, I think the issue in terms of private health insurance product transparency is an important one. I think it is important that we do have transparency. What I do think was really ridiculous is she's got this notion that there'll be a gold, silver and bronze standard of cover. And frankly if that's the only - and that's basically the only health policy announcement we've had in the entire course of this election campaign from the Government. What we were flippant about is that really, colour coding products - really if that's what you want to do to try and make sure you've got good transparency in the industry, frankly you know, everybody should be able to get gold standard cover and it's called Medicare and that's really what we were saying. The issues around transparency, we've had a look at those, they seem sensible but they're really [inaudible] in general business that government should be getting on with. We were being flippant the way in which she announced them and the colour coding but transparency is important, we agree with that, we certainly think there needs to be a better disclosure of products, better understanding of consumers. But going back to this issue, I think there is a real question that needs to be answered about when - these incidents occurred in the context of the sale of Medibank Private. The Government, the Finance Minister, shareholder, major shareholder obviously of this particular issue. I think there's a fair bit to come out that will come out about this whole issue.

BYNER: Now, whilst I've got you there, today, you guys - Labor have announced a national initiative on surviving stroke. What is it that you're going to do that is going to make it better for those who are surviving stroke? What are you offering?

KING: Yeah so two things. We've announced with the Stroke - we'll partner with the Stroke Foundation to do both - we know the quicker that someone can recognise that they've had a stroke and the signs of stroke and get to hospital, the better their outcomes. So making sure that you're aware of the fast - there's an important initiative to make sure you're looking at those signs of stroke. So actually promoting that in the community, and then the other thing we want to do is to make sure that people get the support they need. I've met with many stroke patients over a long period of time who'll tell you, they find it incredibly debilitating once they've gone through hospital, out of rehabilitation, getting that care back into the community and really making sure that they're able to get the support they need so the money is going to that as well.

BYNER: How much is the funding?

KING: The funding is $6 million over 4 years to assist the Stroke Foundation and as I said, promote that [inaudible] to be able to get you back into the workforce and really help you through the course of that journey. That'll support about 24,000 stroke survivors each year.

BYNER: Catherine King, Shadow Health Minister, thank you. By the way, we will get Sussan Ley on the show, probably next week, we haven't got a time yet but as you know we've had a number of bites and also we've put in offers to have the Prime Minister on as well, we've had Bill Shorten on two to three times, twice since the election was called, so as I said we've made every reasonable effort to give the same time to Malcolm Turnbull.