SUNDAY, 1 APRIL 2018
SUBJECT/S: $1 billion increase to Australians’ private health insurance bill; PBS listings; PrEP and efforts to end HIV.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Good morning everybody, and today’s private health insurance increase sees Australians paying $1 billion more for the same private health insurance product. That’s $1 billion coming out of the pockets of Australians and going into the pockets of private health insurers. Malcolm Turnbull’s private health insurance premium hike means that on average, Australian families and seniors will be paying $200 more for their private health insurance, and that’s $1000 more every year for their private health insurance since the Liberals were elected.
We know that private health insurers have been having record profits, and instead of standing up to private health insurers, Malcolm Turnbull has yet again approved an increase that kicks in today that will mean Australians are paying $1 billion more. Now Labor has a different plan, we believe that private health insurance has gone too far, it is becoming unaffordable for many Australians. We will cap private health insurance increases at 2% for the first two years we are in office, and we will task the productivity commission with a root and branch review of private health insurance, the first in twenty years. Now this Easter, it’s up to Malcolm Turnbull instead of giving in to the private health insurers instead of once again giving in to big business, to finally stand up for Australian families.
I’ll also just make some comments, in papers today we’ve seen that the PBS listing for some drugs is set to come down again. Labor absolutely welcomes that, this is part of the business of government. Simplified price disclosure, something that Labor started in Government, has delivered over $20 billion worth of savings to the Budget from PBS reforms. It’s great to see that the Government is now listing medicines and listing those in the way that Labor had envisaged under those simplified price disclosure reforms.
There are of course, a number of drugs – one of them, Keytruda for classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that has been waiting for some eight months. There are drugs that do need to be listed and of course it’s up to the Government to do that.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: This is the smallest insurance increase since 2001 – that includes Labor and Liberal Governments, isn’t this a good outcome?
KING: Well I don’t think it’s a good outcome when you’ve got Australian families who are already doing it tough with wages stagnating, with increases in utilities and other energy bills, really struggling with out of pocket costs, for them now having to find almost $1 billion more out of their pockets in this next year alone. The Government wants to have a great big pat on the pack, it wanted the champagne corks popping when it announced the private health insurance increases for 2018. I couldn’t believe it when they were doing that, it is incredibly out of touch for them to thinking a 3.95% increase – or $1 billion more out of people’s pockets is actually something to be celebrated.
JOURNALIST: But how would you enforce the private sector in capping their rates? How is that enforceable?
KING: The Minister makes the decision, whether private health insurance increases are in the public interest. Now this Government has decided that a 3.95 per cent increase in private health insurance, $1 billion, is in the public interest. We don’t.
JOURNALIST: What guarantees can you give though that smaller funds wouldn’t collapse if Labor was elected and imposed a cap?
KING: We’ve said very clearly that the cap holds for all insurers but we will work with APRA and the smaller insurers who have got very good products, and I spoke to them most recently at their conference. But we will work with APRA to ensure that this does not mean that we see a consolidation of the market. We want greater competition, we want to see those smaller players thrive.
We are in this position partly because the Turnbull Government decided to privatise Medibank Private. That has been a massive player come into the market, a very big monopoly largely, come into the market. We were told at the time that was going to put downward pressure on premiums. Well, there has been no evidence of that. We have now got less and less competition in the market and in our view, we actually need to increase that. It’s why we want the Productivity Commission to have a really good look at what is actually happening in this sector overall.
JOURNALIST: Included in the PBS now is the drug PrEP, the HIV prevention drug. Is Labor supportive of that and do those measures go far enough in helping to, maybe one day, eliminate HIV?
KING: It is terrific to see PrEP finally listed, it is way too late in this country. We should have had this listed much, much sooner. It has been unfortunate that this has taken so long. We have seen states and territories actually introduce access schemes for PrEP a year earlier. And of course, Labor announced a $53 million commitment; not only to support those access schemes in states and territories, but also ensure that we start to do more work with some of the population groups that we are really concerned about. We are seeing an increasing rate in HIV infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. That is a very serious issue for this country and it is going to need a little bit more than listing PrEP but we certainly welcome that today. That will make a significant difference in getting Australia towards zero HIV infections.