THE Far North’s over-stretched public health system would be one of the nation’s biggest casualties under the Gillard Government’s plans to wind back private health insurance rebates, Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch says.
Mr Entsch argued against the Government’s legislation in Federal Parliament, saying the changes would push more patients into the public health system.
“Our region’s health system relies on patients having private health insurance cover,” he said.
“The changes proposed by the Government will force people to drop private cover or choose cheaper cover with fewer procedures included, causing upward pressure on insurance premiums and forcing more people into public hospitals already under pressure.
“This is a blatant cost-shifting measure from the Federal Government to the state public system.”
The legislation, which aims to means-test the 30 per cent rebate from July 1 this year, was passed in the House of Representatives. It will now go before the Senate.
Mr Entsch said Cairns Base Hospital, which has been classified by the Australian Medical Association as being “at breaking point”, would not be able to cope with the additional workload.
“As it stands now, the system in the Far North is not equipped with the resources, staff or beds to cope with its current intake of patients, let alone thousands more,” he said.
“Staff at Cairns Base Hospital are already under extraordinary pressure and working longer hours than they should be.
“Almost on a weekly basis, we see the unions and doctors pleading for more specialists, resources and beds so they can provide the quality of care they want to.
“Now the Government wants to put them under more pressure.”
More than 60,000 people in the Leichhardt electorate have private health insurance.
About 2.4 million people would be directly affected by the changes and face premium increases of between 14 and 43 per cent, depending on their income bracket.
Mr Entsch said the changes would not just sting higher-income earners, who faced a 43 per cent increase in their premiums, but also middle-income earners.
“The Government assumes middle-income earners can afford increases in premiums, but people in this bracket typically do not receive the concessions that lower-income earners do,” he said.
“This increase will force them to choose between maintaining private cover, downgrading their cover or going without cover and relying on the public health system”
Mr Entsch said the changes were systemic of the Government’s shoddy management of past initiatives such as the $2.5 billion home insulation scheme, the $43 billion National Broadband Network, the failed border protection policies which incurred a budget blow-out of $886 million and the Building Education Revolution’s “school halls fiasco”.
“Had these programs been managed properly, there would be no need for Government cost-cutting,” he said.
A report on the Government’s planned changes, by consulting firm Deloitte Australia, indicates 175,000 Australians would be expected to withdraw from private hospital cover and a further 583,000 would downgrade their cover.
Over five years, about 1.6 million would be expected to drop their cover and 4.3 million would downgrade.
Deloitte also predicts that private health insurance would rise 10 per cent above what they would otherwise be.
A 2012 Ipsos survey found that 64 per cent of respondents were in favour of the $4.5 billion a year that the Government spent on the private health insurance rebate.