• Insurance premium rise ‘must bring benefits’

    Private health insurance premiums are set to rise by 2.9 percent in 2023 after the Australian Government announced the annual increase.

    Health Minister Mark Butler said the rise would come into effect from Saturday 1 April, though many private health insurance organisations were expected to delay the increase. 

    “Private health insurers must ensure their members are getting value for their money, and when costs rise they want to know higher premiums are contributing to system-wide improvements,” he said. 

    The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) welcomed the Health Minister’s considered approach to the premium increase, but wants to see measures put in place to ensure Australians reap the benefits.

    Acting APHA CEO Lucy Cheetham said while the increase was sensible as health costs increase, regulatory bodies like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should be watching over private health insurers’ shoulders to ensure costs to consumers are minimised.

    “We welcome some private health insurers deferring their premium increases off the back of their huge profits during the pandemic, that seems only fair. But we also need to make sure that consumers are protected, and health insurers are not using cashbacks (a way of repaying premiums paid during lockdowns) to deter consumers from exercising their right to shop around," she said. 

    “In addition, the Australian Government also needs to do more to protect consumers making sure they get the benefits they pay for when they sign up for a health insurance policy. Loopholes and anomalies need to be ironed out which are costing consumers in out-of-pocket costs and blocking their access to urgent care.”

    Ms Cheetham said cost pressures for hospitals, as for Australian families, continued to increase and private hospitals were working with medical device companies to deliver savings for patients and reduce the costs of medical technology, while still supporting clinical decisions made by doctors. 

    “Recent reforms of the list that sets prices for devices have given private health insurers an immediate bump of $14 million in savings in the first quarter alone. Savings of up to $900 million are already locked in over four years,” she said.

    Ms Cheetham also welcomed the focus on health workforce in Minister Butler’s announcement but said more must be done to secure Australia’s health workforce.

    “Australia competes globally for the health workers we need to address the backlog in elective surgery and the crisis in mental health," she said. 

    "Government must do even more to cut red tape and costs for hospitals sponsoring the skilled migrant health workers we need to fill urgent vacancies and mentor young Australian graduates coming through.” 

    APHA is calling for:

    • A 12-month moratorium on charges to employers for healthcare-related skilled migration 
    • A 12-month moratorium on Labour Market Testing for clinical professions in acute shortage 
    • Relaxation of restrictions placed on overseas trained doctors working with private hospitals so that they can help respond to critical shortages such as psychiatry.

    Read more: Private hospital activity yet to recover from COVID-19

    Read more: Health workforce shortage fix needs a national approach