Private health insurers covering GP bills will undermine Medicare

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

‘We do not support the recent suggestion by private health insurers to operate outside the hospital system to cover visits to GPs and specialists’, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Acting Chief Executive Dr Linc Thurecht.

‘This would undermine our universal healthcare system we have with Medicare and raise fundamental issues of equity around who can access and afford to pay for their healthcare.

‘While reforms that shift care away from hospitals to less expensive primary and community healthcare settings deserve consideration, this should not be done in isolation from the rest of the healthcare system. The importance of preventive health should also be considered in this context to improve population health and welfare, and reduce future demands on our healthcare system.

‘There are many interdependencies in our current system, and a change in one area will have impacts, possibly adverse impacts, in another.

‘This is why AHHA has been calling on the Government for over two years for an independent Productivity Commission review of the whole healthcare system, both public and private components, to determine how best to keep quality and timely healthcare affordable—for governments and for all Australians regardless of the size of their wallets or where they live.

‘This review should also investigate and clarify the public policy objectives that are being served by Government support of private healthcare and private health insurance, through publicly-funded subsidies and other mechanisms.

‘We currently have, in Medicare, a very good system of universal health insurance that is well regarded by most Australians. The system does need updating to cater for current and emerging healthcare needs and to encourage the use of best value healthcare. But in doing that we should not undermine its qualities that have served us well for 35 years. AHHA does not support any erosion of universal access to primary healthcare.

‘To allow private health insurers to operate even further into Medicare-funded territory fundamentally threatens the principles of Medicare because insurers are about profits for shareholders and prioritising care for their policyholders, not about the best care for rich and poor alike. It would also raise fundamental concerns for the one-half of all Australians not covered by private health insurance.

‘We should be cautious of a sector whose track record is one of escalating premiums and reductions in cover, and a very strong say in where and how you are going to be treated and what you are and are not covered for.

‘Such a system has all the characteristics of the American system, which relies on private health insurance to function—it is the most costly health system in the world, where one-half of all bankruptcies are caused by high medical bills.

‘If the Government is to seriously consider such a fundamental change to our healthcare system, we re-iterate it must be done in a wholistic manner that considers the impact on all parts of the health system, and the impact on all Australians, not just those who have private health insurance.’

More information on AHHA is available at ahha.asn.au

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:  Dr Linc Thurecht, A/Chief Executive, AHHA

0401 393 729