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Budget 2018: transcript of interview with Leon Byner: 5AA: 10 May 2018: health budget; record aged care package; private health insurance; breast cancer drug Kisqali added to the PBS

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Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for Health


10 May 2018



Topics: Health Budget; Record Aged Care Package; private health insurance; breast cancer drug Kisqali added to the PBS.

LEON BYNER: Let’s talk to the federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Greg thanks for being on the program today.

GREG HUNT: Good morning, Leon.

LEON BYNER: Now, let’s look at the fact that you’ve got a Medicare funding increase of $4.8 billion, you’ve got public hospital funding by more than $30 (billion)- that’s nationally, of course, you’ve got investment in new medicines: $2.4 billion - we’ll go through that in a sec; and also, funding for aged care up by $5 (billion). Would you happen to know what the investments are for South Australia in these?

GREG HUNT: So what we’ll do is we’ll break them down for South Australia. I know in terms of hospitals, we’ve got well over a billion dollars of extra funding for South Australia in terms of hospitals. The way it works with Medicare and all of the other items is that they’re uncapped. So all of the services that your doctors deliver on average, just about 7.5 per cent of the population, so it’ll be 7.5 per cent of the funding, the growth.

All of the medicine, all of the hospital services, you get the proportionate funding relative to the population, but they’re uncapped services. All up though, when you look at $12.5 billion of additional funding for the Health budget and the increase in Medicare and hospitals and medicines and mental health and medical research as well as aged care, that’s what you can do when you’ve got a strong economy.

So you can’t do it unless you’ve got a strong economy, and that’s what you can do when you have a strong, well-managed economy. And I think that’s very, very, very important and very good outcomes for people at every stage of life.

Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

LEON BYNER: Let’s look first of all at some of the PBS additions, and also a story that I think would have tugged at the heartstrings of many about the fact that little baby passed on, unfortunately, with a disease that maybe genetic testing would have helped. Let’s talk about that first. Tell us about this, and what it’s going to cost.

GREG HUNT: So the PBS, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, that’s got an additional $2.4 billion that’s been allocated to it. One of the critical drugs is the drug called Spinraza. It’s for a condition, spinal muscular atrophy, it’s a genetic condition. It’s the largest killer of children under two for genetic conditions, and what it effectively does is it means that the muscles waste.

And a child can be born perfectly healthy, and then this genetic time bomb sets in in the first year of life, and the muscles close down and little children such as Mackenzie Casella don’t make it. This little girl passed away at just under eight months, and I worked with and met her parents at length.

We’ll now fund this drug, it would otherwise be $370,000, but if it’s given early enough it can transform and save lives or it can radically improve lives. And yes, it’s a lot of money, $240 million, but that’s actually what a good society and a good economy is about. You can do these things.

LEON BYNER: What about some of the other additives to the PBS? The ones that are going to affect the most people.

GREG HUNT: So what you see is that in particular, the biggest expense was a drug called Kisqali. Kisqali is for breast cancer, 3150 women, it’s a $700 million investment. But I met a breast cancer survivor today who’s been on Kisqali. Her name’s Lisa from Canberra, and she said, instead of months I’ve got years, and maybe many, many, many years, and I’ve got an infinitely better quality of life and I’ve got a sense of hope and opportunity and prospect.

That drug would have cost $70,000, it would otherwise have been impossible to access. Keytruda, I think many have heard of Keytruda, it’s a new immunotherapy, it’s the new wave of cancer treatments where it actually gets the body itself to fight back. It turns on the immune system to fight back against the cancer. That’s being extended for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. You’ve got drugs such as Opdivo for lung cancer, Entresto for chronic heart failure. So, so many different areas.

LEON BYNER: Now, I want to talk about the private health insurance, because we’re getting a lot of feedback from people, and no doubt you’ve heard this and I know there’s a review on, but there’s a lot of unusual advertising or marketing. And I’m using that word tactfully because funds are telling us that on one hand, we don’t need to, depending on our circumstances, insure for maternity issues.

But then when you go and try and atrophy them, you can’t because they’re included with other things and you can’t break the package. Now, are we able to have more flexibility so that the plans offered to people are a little bit more tailored to their needs than a rather one size fits all? Because no doubt that’s costing them extra money.

Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

GREG HUNT: Yes, we are, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. So, you’re 100 per cent right. The cost of private health insurance has been a huge issue for millions of Australians. It was one of my biggest issues when I came in and we negotiated the largest reforms in a decade, which led to the lowest premium changes in 17 years, but there’s still a lot more to be done. And right at the top of that list is simplifying what people get for their health insurance and giving them the ability to choose the right flexible package for them.

So we’re going through that process, as you said, exactly now. I’ve met with the private health insurers this week, a series of them, and I spoke to one of the overarching bodies for the private health insurers only yesterday, and I said, over the next six months, this is my top priority in health. And that is to work on the next wave of reform in private health insurance, more flexible, and then to continue to drive down the pressures on the cost.

LEON BYNER: When will people have these better choices? Got a timeline?

GREG HUNT: Yes. This is for the next round of private health premiums early next year. That deadline is something that we’ve set. The industry has accepted. They are working on it and, as I say, only this week, even in the midst of the Budget, I met with what’s called Members Health, which represents all of the private health insurers and I’ve met with three of the big five private health insurers in the last 48 hours.

So, driving forward the fact that more flexibility and people being able to have simpler, understandable private health, they know what’s in, they know what’s out, they know exactly what they’re getting. I mean, if you have 20 pages of exclusions in fine print, that’s just not something that people have the time to read or to try to understand. It’s got to be one page, I know what’s in, no surprises.

LEON BYNER: Will it be cheaper?

GREG HUNT: It’s about reducing the pressure on the prices. So, I’d never make a false promise on that. What it is, though, is we produce the lowest change in 17 years, and I want to push to repeat and beat that in the coming year.

LEON BYNER: One other point about this whole business of aged care help. Now, it mightn’t be strictly your portfolio, but there are two things here. The NDIS is far too bureaucratic for people. I know that this is not strictly your area, but I should give you the feedback so that when you do into Cabinet could you …

GREG HUNT: That’s right, it’s important to me.

Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

LEON BYNER: So, we have to do something about that because we've got situations now where, and we’re go to a national system, and what's ending up happening is that people who were being fairly well served by organisations like Disability SA have now moved or transitioned across to the new system.

And I’ve got to tell you, it's snakes and ladders. That’s point one. Point two, I know that the Treasurer has announced more aged care packages, but I've got to tell you, there's still a hell of a waiting list, Greg.

GREG HUNT: Well, what we've done- aged care is a huge theme. We're adding, over the course of the current five years, and again, you only do this if you've got a strong economy, and we're adding, all up, 64,000 home care places, going from 87,000 or 151. In this Budget alone, we've delivered 20,000 - 6000 in December and 14,000 on Budget night, and that's specifically focused at the higher needs, higher care level of the home care sector.

What we're doing is saying you can go into residential care and there are more residential places each year every year, but most people want to be able to stay in their own home if they're living longer and we're giving them that choice. So, you're 100 per cent right about the need and we're going through a massive increase in home care packages.

LEON BYNER: Well, the waiting list at the moment in this state, I can only speak to for Adelaide and South Australia, the waiting list is absurdly ridiculous and the people themselves that get to deliver them are pulling their hair out, let alone the consumers. So, is this going to change?

GREG HUNT: Yes, so there'll be another 14,000 packages that are going to be released very shortly and what that means is better access earlier for people who rightly want that access. So, your outline of concern, 100 per cent agree, and that’s why it wasn't a difficult argument to make with the Prime Minister or the Treasurer. They were both completely engaged on this question of better access to home care so people have the choice, you know, if they live longer to stay in their own home.

LEON BYNER: One other question. You will remember that during the SA election campaign we had you on air one morning and the then Health Minister and you had a bit of a fight. But it boiled down to this, that you were aware that the auditors of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital had found a number of deficiencies which needed to be fixed by about the end of the first week in June. My mail is it is quite likely that they won't be ready. What would that mean?

GREG HUNT: So, I know that Stephen Wade is driving the Royal Adelaide Hospital reforms as fast as any human could possibly do. Look, I am very hopeful that Royal Adelaide will get there and I think we want to be flexible and make sure that it meets the standards. And I haven't had an update in the last couple of weeks, but I will seek out an update, but at the end of the day what we're seeing is that Stephen and Stephen Marshall are fixing up the mess they were left.

LEON BYNER: That's fine. But again, I just want to know, hypothetically, what happens if the deadline is not met?

Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Hastings, Victoria.

GREG HUNT: Look, I don't see any circumstance under which the hospital wouldn't continue to provide its services. What we're focused on now is getting the hospital up to its standards. It's run by South Australia, it's run by the SA Government. My word is that there's been quite a dramatic change on the ground. They're going as fast as they can and my expectation is they'll get there.

LEON BYNER: Alright. Greg Hunt, federal Health Minister, thanks for joining us.