Health insurance soars

Friday, 14. September 2018

Australian politics: full coverageAnalysis: Little evidence rebate has helped consumers
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The Abbott government has approved the biggest increase in health insurance premiums in almost a decade, as it walks away from any early implementation of its election promise to scrap the means-testing of the 30 per cent rebate for health fund members.

In a pre-Christmas whammy for Australians grappling with spiralling health costs, the average family policy that includes ancillaries such as dental costs is likely to rise by more than $200 a year, thanks to the average 6.2 per cent increase for 2014 endorsed by Health Minister Peter Dutton.

For a basic family policy, the rise will be about $150 a year. Singles can expect to pay an extra $100 a year in premiums.

For all categories, the increase is almost triple the overall rate of inflation. The last time there was a bigger increase was in 2005, when premiums rose 7.96 per cent.

Among the top 10 most popular funds, the increases range from just under 3 per cent (Health Insurance Fund of Australia) and just under 8 per cent for NIB.

Mr Dutton blamed an 8 per cent increase in overall payouts by funds this year for the sharp rise. He said the former government should also be held responsible, noting health insurers had been ”constantly under attack”.

”There is no doubt this increase could have been lower had it not been for the pressures placed on the sector by Labor,” he said in a statement. However, Mr Dutton declined a request for an interview to explain those pressures.

The opposition spokeswoman on health, Catherine King, said the increase was a ”slap in the face” for consumers and had been pushed through just before Christmas in the hope that people would not notice because of the holidays.

”Making this announcement two days before Christmas is highly cynical and something the government should be ashamed of,” Ms King said.

The increase comes as the government weighs up when, and whether, to proceed with the scrapping of means-testing of the health insurance rebate.

Under measures that came into effect last year, singles earning about $88,000 and families earning more than $176,000 no longer get the full rebate. Singles earning more than $130,000 and families with an income of twice that amount, do not get a rebate at all.

During his election campaign launch this year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would scrap the means-testing within a decade.

The mid-year economic and fiscal outlook predicted rolling budget deficits for a decade unless savings were found. Removing the means-testing of the rebate would cost almost $3 billion over the next four years.

The Consumer Health Forum of Australia said the government needed to look seriously at why health costs continued to vastly outpace inflation.

An ageing population, as well as the increase in the cost in doctors’ fees and equipment, did not adequately explain the surge, said spokesman Mark Metherell.

”Health costs have been going up more than inflation for more than a decade,” he said.

”We feel the whole issue should be examined. Premiums are going up. Out-of-pocket costs are going up. The average family will struggle to pay this increase.”

He said the performance and efficiency of health funds should be rewarded by government. At the moment, they were simply being compensated for the payouts they had made.

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Perth Glory roadtrip perfect timing

Friday, 14. September 2018

Perth Glory’s extended road trip for rounds 12 and 13 of the A-League season could not have come at a better time for the club.
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It’s a terrific chance for new coach Kenny Lowe to spend some time with the entire squad; actually, the entire club.

As keeper Danny Vukovic put it – “to draw a line in the sand.”

Everyone involved in the club that the Glory can afford to take on the road trip should go – including injured players, management and owners, so that when they return for their January 10 home game against the bottom-ranked Melbourne Heart, everyone in purple is on the same page.

Just take a look at what Darren Lehmann has done with the Australian cricket team in a short period at the helm, simply by getting everyone working towards a united goal (being the best in the world) – and doing it together.

Glory will play the sixth placed Central Coast Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium on New Year’s Eve and then the Newcastle Jets (fourth) at Hunter Stadium on January 4.

Vukovic believes the trip has come at the perfect time.

“We stay over there. It will be good to spend some time with the boys and to get away from the media,” he said.

“We’ve got two tough games, but two games we believe we can do well in, so we can really set up our season.

“Yeah [the past week] was certainly mentally draining; it was tough on everyone… and it showed in our performance [0-0 against Adelaide United on Sunday].”

Perth has now taken two points away from three clashes against Adelaide and sit in seventh place on the A-League table, just three points behind the Mariners.

The shining light for the club has been the performances of some of the youngsters in the side.

Playing big parts in games this season have been Matt Davies (18 years old), Riley Woodcock (18), Chris Harold (21), Jamie Maclaren (20), Jack Clisby (21) and Ryan (20) and Cameron Edwards (18).

In the post-game interview after his first game since taking the helm from the sacked Alistair Edwards, Lowe praised the young players in the squad.

And he reminded everyone of the club’s goal of becoming an A-League force over the next three seasons.

“You read the press, there was a three-year plan in place,” he said.

“Develop some youngsters, move forward this year and then next year we’ll get a bit better a then the next year we’ll be pushing for things.

“I don’t think that’s changed.”

It’s goals like that which Lowe will need to workshop with the playing squad.

Because as far as Vukovic is concerned, they want to push for things now.

The star keeper said on Monday that the players believe finals are on the agenda for this season.

“One hundred percent, we are very confident,” he said. “We are certainly united and we do believe we can play finals football.

“We come up to an important period of the competition where some good results will propel us into the top six.

“But if we don’t play well, we will lose touch, so it’s an important time for us.”

But maybe we shouldn’t read too much into Lowe’s comments over the past week.

After all, as he said himself, seven days ago he was a Glory fan watching the games from the stands with a beer in his hand.

Now he finds himself on the sidelines of a club that is in desperate need of a long-term visionary at the helm.

And he has a little over half a season to show the board of the Glory that he is the person to carry on the job beyond his stint as caretaker.

“I’ve had one game, its nil-nil,” he said. “We’ve been under the pump, externally and internally for a week.

“It’s probably not been the best place to be for all the players.

“They’ve gone out and done that; they ain’t got beat. Why all the doom and gloom?”

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Human Rights Commission budget should accommodate Wilson, says Attorney-General George Brandis

Friday, 14. September 2018

Australian politics: full coverage
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Attorney-General George Brandis says the Australian Human Rights Commission should have no trouble finding the money to pay for the salary of Tim Wilson.

He has suggested the commission look at its own staffing expenditure, which has nearly doubled in the past three years.

Commission president Gillian Triggs warned on Monday that Mr Wilson’s appointment as a commissioner to the AHRC – with a salary of about $320,000 a year – may have to come at the expense of programs on school bullying and education for older Australians.

That is because Mr Wilson’s appointment will not coincide with a boost in the commission’s annual budget of about $25 million.

Ms Triggs said his appointment would ”squeeze” the commission because it would be forced to find the money within its existing budget.

She will meet other commissioners next month to decide where spending cuts to programs will come from.

But Mr Brandis says the commission should have no trouble coming up with the money.

He has pointed to the commission’s annual reports, which show staffing costs have risen by $5.4 million over the past three years, representing an increase of nearly 50 per cent.

”If the commission decides to increase its staffing costs by 50 per cent in three years, it is difficult to understand how the salary of a single statutory officer cannot be met by economies within its staffing expenditure rather than elsewhere in its budget,” Mr Brandis said. ”However, that is a matter for the commission.”

According to its 2013 annual report, the commission spent $16.37 million on ”employee benefits” last year. These expenses included wages and salaries, superannuation, entitlements, redundancies and other expenses for staff. In its 2010 annual report, it spent $11.01 million.

Mr Brandis said the management of the commission’s finances were a ”matter for the commission”.

”The public expects that the commission, like all statutory agencies, will find the funds for the remuneration of statutory officers from within its budget,” he said.

Ms Triggs said on Monday that she will meet with the Attorney-General and his representatives in mid-January ”to discuss these budgetary issues”.

Mr Wilson, who was a director at libertarian think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, is due to take up his position on the Human Rights Commission in February. The IPA has called for the abolition of the commission.

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Government must show if $5b rebate does cut health costs

Friday, 14. September 2018

Each year, the federal government pays health funds more than $5 billion to subsidise health insurances.
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It is a significant sum of money, more than one-third of the total amount it pays to the states and territories for all health services and infrastructure.

At $5.4 billion this financial year, rising to $5.91 billion by 2016-17, the money pays for the 30 per cent rebate for most Australians who take out private health insurance.

The rebate is supposed to keep costs down for consumers, but – as evidenced by the 6.2 per cent average increase in premiums announced on Monday – there is little evidence the rebate has achieved this in any meaningful way.

Introduced in 1999, the rebate seemed to keep costs down for its first three years, largely due to a pre-election decision of the Howard government in 2001 to keep premiums flat.

The next year, after the Coalition was re-elected at the polls, premiums were raised by almost 10 per cent.

Since 1998, the average health insurance premium has risen by 130 per cent, while overall prices have gone up by less than 50 per cent. Much of the problem lies with how the rebate intersects with the other measures to encourage people to take out private health insurance.

While the rebate is the carrot, it’s the stick of a higher Medicare levy for middle and high-income earners. Coupled with lifetime cover provisions – which penalise people over 30 who haven’t taken out insurance – it’s a pretty big stick.

But it provides little incentive for health funds and hospitals to be more efficient.

And, as the stick encourages more people to join health funds, the cost of health insurance, and the rebate, keeps going up.

The rebate itself is a highly circuitous and inefficient way for the government to invest in healthcare. Private health insurers take their cut in profit for essentially re-directing the funding into health spending.

The introduction of the means test for the rebate highlighted how little it impacts on health fund membership. Amid predictions from the health fund industry that there would be a mass exodus of members, numbers have increased since it was introduced.

One study predicted 2.8 million would drop their cover in the first five years.

The truth is that some 12.8 million people are covered by health insurance now, compared with 12.4 million when means testing was introduced.

A serious re-examination of health funding is required, especially with an ageing population. The government must investigate whether the rebate works to reduce health costs to consumers. Or makes little difference over the long term, but at a whopping cost to taxpayers.

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Little evidence health insurance rebate has achieved savings for consumers

Friday, 14. September 2018

Australian politics: full coverageHealth insurance to soars
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Each year, the federal government pays health funds more than $5 billion to subsidise health insurance premiums. It is a significant sum of money, more than one-third of the total amount it pays to the states and territories for all health services and infrastructure.

At $5.4 billion this financial year, rising to $5.91 billion by 2016-17, the money pays for the 30 per cent rebate for most people who take out private health insurance.

The rebate is meant to keep costs down for consumers, but – as evidenced by the 6.2 per cent average increase in premiums announced on Monday – there is precious little evidence the rebate has achieved this in any meaningful way.

The rebate, introduced in 1999, seemed to keep costs down for its first three years, largely due to a pre-election decision of the Howard government in 2001 to keep premiums flat.

The next year, after being re-elected, premiums were raised more than 10 per cent. Since 1998, the average health insurance premium has risen by 130 per cent, while overall prices have gone up by less than 50 per cent.

Much of the problem lies with how the rebate intersects with other measures to encourage people to take out private health insurance. While the rebate is the carrot, it’s the stick of a higher Medicare levy for middle- and high-income earners that prompts most people to take up private insurance.

Coupled with lifetime cover provisions – which penalises people over 30 who have not taken out insurance – it is a pretty big stick.

But it provides little incentive for health funds and hospitals to become more efficient.

As the stick encourages more people to join health funds, the cost of health insurance, and the rebate, keeps going up. The rebate is a highly circuitous and inefficient way for the government to invest in healthcare. Private health insurers take their cut in profit for essentially redirecting the funding into health spending.

The introduction of the means test for the rebate highlighted how little it affects health fund membership. Amid predictions from health insurers that there would be a mass exodus of members, numbers have actually increased since it was introduced. The truth is that 12.8 million people are covered by health insurance now, compared with 12.4 million when means testing was introduced.

A serious re-examination of health funding is required, especially with an ageing population. The government must investigate whether the rebate works to reduce health costs to consumers. Or makes little difference over the long-term, but at a whopping cost to taxpayers.

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