What challenges will Australia’s new health minister face?

Richard Laycock 19 January 2017 NEWS

Greg Hunt outside Peninsula Health

Medicare rebate freeze, premium hikes and junk policies are amongst the issues to be tackled.

Greg Hunt was named by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as Sussan Ley's replacement as minister for health and sport yesterday. Within 10 minutes of taking the job, he was under pressure from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) over the ongoing Medicare rebate freeze, according to the AFR.

The AMA has long been lobbying for the rebate freeze, which has been placed since 2014, to be lifted. At a doorstop interview outside Frankston Hospital, Hunt acknowledged the pivotal role organisations such as the AMA play in the Australian health space. While Hunt was non-committal about where he stood on this divisive issue, saying that he wanted to speak with representatives of the various concerned parties, he told reporters "... that for GPs I want to be their health minister".

Hunt also highlighted the role private health funds play in providing Australian consumers with choice. His appointment comes just days after the deadline for private health funds to submit their proposals for premium increases. Australians may be in for an industry-wide average premium hike of 5% in 2017, which, even though it would be the lowest average since 2010, would still be an added financial burden many Australians may not be able to bear.

Constant premium increases have forced many Australians to either scrap their cover altogether or take out cheaper policies that, while satisfying tax rebate requirements (and for those over 31 years of age the lifetime health cover loading), provide less value to the consumer.

Hunt said: "My vision and our vision is very simple. That is to help give Australia the best health care system in the world." Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff hopes that the new minister may take aim at ending "junk" policies as a first step.

“The new minister could act quickly to end these junk policies, a move which has bipartisan support. These policies cost Australians, while providing little real cover beyond the services already covered by Medicare. Doing away with these policies would be an easy win for the new minister."

We'll be offering an in-depth analysis of the changes in health insurance pricing as soon as the new price rises are approved. In the meantime, you can start comparing your alternatives if you're worried about the impact of price rises.

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