THE HON. CATHERINE KING MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT
TUESDAY, 29 MAY 2018
SUBJECTS: Superannuation; surgeon fees; flu vaccine shortage
ASHLEIGH GILLON, SKY NEWS: Catherine King I appreciate your time. I do want to look at your portfolio issues, but first though – I’m not sure if you caught that interview I had there with the Industry Super CEO, he was expressing real concerns about some of the recommendations by the Productivity Commission today. Is Labor also concerned about this idea of placing people on a default fund from a best-in-show list when they do start working for the first time? Or are you worried about this expert panel, how they’ll pick that top ten, how that panel is chosen?
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: I think the first thing to say is the Productivity Commission has only just handed down a pretty comprehensive report. We will of course take the time to study it and its recommendations thoroughly. It obviously received a substantial amount of submissions as it went through, so I think that’s important. The importance of superannuation in terms of our retirement incomes can’t be underestimated. Labor is the party that put in place modern superannuation – we’d be very concerned if that sense of a building of retirement income was watered down. Or the capacity for people to be able to choose superannuation funds that best suit their circumstances, and I think particularly when there’s a lack of transparency around fees and structures. One of the things we’re debating at the moment – and that I understand the Productivity Commission report has confirmed – is that the industry super funds are doing much better for consumers than the bank-run superannuation funds for example, with much more fees. So those sort of issues are going to be very important as we look at the recommendations.
GILLON: Just in your portfolio today I notice you’re calling for an ACCC investigation to look at claims that surgeons are charging very steep out-of-pocket booking fees, there’ve been some reports in the media about this in recent days – just how widespread do you fear that practice really is?
KING: Well look we don’t know. I want to say that most surgeons do the right thing and actually have their patients’ interests absolutely at heart. But what we’re seeing is these administration fees, booking fees start to emerge fairly substantially, certainly among some groups of surgeons. The AMA over the weekend has condemned the practice. I think frankly it is unethical, and creating enormous hardship for many people who are being asked to pay thousands of dollars upfront in a booking or administration fee to access the health care that we need. We don’t know how widespread the practice is. We hear anecdotally – and I’ve had some of my own constituents raise it as an issue with me – but we really don’t know how widespread it is and I think frankly even the college of surgeons themselves has said this practice is something that really needs to be stamped out. We’ve seen out-of-pocket costs increasing for people – whether it be through the Medicare system or people using their private health insurance – and I think this sort of practice is something we should all be very concerned about.
GILLON: You’ve been criticising the government for having to order in an extra 800,000 flu vaccines. Is that actually a success story though for the Government? It shows that the public information campaign pushing the vaccines is working. It’s not like Australia’s been caught short without enough vaccines.
KING: Well we have been caught short without enough flu vaccines –
GILLON: No we weren’t caught out. They released another batch now.
KING: Not until June/July is when the new batch will be available. Obviously we’re heading into the winter months and there is an optimal time for having your flu vaccine as well. The first thing I’d like to say is last flu season was a horror season. I think many people think the flu is somehow benign and we saw the strain that we had last year and what happened – obviously a number of deaths, a number of deaths of children. So it’s not surprising that demand for flu vaccine, given what happened last year, was going to be higher. You’ve had the federal government-run access scheme for a long period of time through the National Immunisation Program, you’ve got state government who were planning schemes and have put that in place. With the TGA monitoring medicine supplies it seems to me just a bit odd that we’ve literally got to winter and we suddenly say gosh we’re really short and we’re now rationing supply in my home state of Victoria for people. That seems to be not foresighted. It’s great that there are more people having flu vaccines, let’s hope that gives more herd immunity and we have less cases this year. And certainly that we don’t have the sort of deaths that we had last year. But it does seem a bit strange frankly that we’ve got to June and the government’s now saying we’ve had to order another 800,000 vaccines. You would have thought we could have done that a bit earlier.
GILLON: When you say we’re rationing supplies, has anyone actually been turned away from a flu shot because of a lack of supply?
KING: Well we don’t know but certainly in my home state of Victoria basically doctors have been told that they need to prioritise patients. Now they do that anyway and they do that on the basis of who’s in need but when you’ve got schemes where people are actually going and seeking a flu vax you would have thought it would have been available for people when they need it. And that’s what we certainly understand is happening in the state of Victoria, I don’t know if that’s happening in other states.
GILLON: Catherine King, appreciate you joining us live there from Canberra.
KING: Really good to talk to you Ashleigh.