The Turnbull Government’s mission to overhaul the private health insurance system is underway with two committees announced – one to advise government on reform and the second to examine the prostheses list.
The Ministerial advisory committee, to be chaired by former public servant Dr Jeffrey Harmer AO, will include representatives from the private hospital sector, private health insurance, patient groups and medical device companies.
Professor Terry Campbell will chair the revamped Prostheses List Advisory Committee (PLAC) which will include a similar membership, though details have not been announced.
The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Mr Michael Roff welcomed the committee announcements and said he was looking forward to the reform debate.
“Both these committees are focussed on better outcomes for consumers in terms of easily understandable health insurance products and affordability and access to medical devices. APHA supports the ambitions of both these committees and looks forward to contributing to the debate around the table.”
Mr Roff said Australian health consumers would expect the committee to deliver real reform of the confusing private health insurance industry, including plain English policies and the end of ‘junk’ policies.
“APHA has long campaigned for reform of health insurance policies to make them easier for Australians to understand. Too often it’s the private hospital staff who have to deliver the devastating news to a patient that they do not have cover for a needed procedure. The patients often have no idea they aren't covered.
“When it comes to adequate mental health cover it is even more frightening for families. A mental health episode is often unexpected, can’t be planned for and requires immediate intervention. On R U Ok? Day we are reminded that mental health concerns can impact anyone, and many Australians don’t realise their cover might limit their access to this important care,” he said.
He said the PLAC would also present opportunities for industry furphies around prostheses costs to be put to bed.
“There has been a lot of misinformation put out into the public domain by the private health insurance industry that needs to be discarded by this committee.
“The health funds have gone to a great deal of trouble to tout absurd numbers suggesting between $800 million and $1.2 billion could be saved by reforming the pricing system. These rubbery figures are based on spurious assumptions and have not been independently verified.
“If the health funds want to save $1 billion per year the easiest option, and the best option for consumers, is to remove the obligation for the funds to pay for treatment of privately insured Australians in public hospitals.
“This trend, of private patients in public hospitals, is increasing across the country. It results in public hospital beds, intended for public patients who can’t afford to contribute to their own care, being used for private patients In a blatant cost-shifting cash grab.
“If we stopped private health insurance from having to pay for procedures done in public hospitals then public patients with no health insurance would not be stranded on lengthy waiting lists," Mr Roff said.