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Can we blame the latest private health insurance hikes on a “lazy” Government?

It’s no surprise that private health insurance premiums continue to rise. What is surprising is that more questions aren’t being asked about the merits of such extravagant public subsidy of the PHI industry.

As has been said time and time again at Croakey, by a variety of commentators, this is an expensive, ineffective and inequitable way to fund health care with all sorts of adverse and unintended consequences.

Ian McAuley, who lectures in public sector finance at the University of Canberra and is a Centre for Policy Development Fellow, says the latest PHI premium hikes raise some tough questions for Roxon, Rudd, et al.  He writes:

“Nicola Roxon has announced that private health insurance premiums will rise by 5.78 percent from April this year.  She also said that this year’s increase is lower than last year’s (6.02 percent), and is lower than the average in the five years before Labor came to office.

The Minister has not pointed out that the year just past was one of very low general inflation. When we look at the amount by which approved private health insurance premiums have risen in excess of inflation – that is, the real price rise – this has been the highest rise for five years.
phi
So long as the Government supports private health insurance, such premium rises are inevitable. Just this week the influential journal The Economist warned that private insurance is an expensive way to fund health care – confirming what independent Australian economists have been pointing out ever since the previous Government re-introduced subsidies for private insurance in 1997.

The Government is in a difficult situation, however, but it’s partly of its own making. In promising to maintain support for private insurance when it came to office, it allowed political caution to triumph over sound economic policy.

It has made no attempt to explain to the public why support for private insurance is poor public policy. Instead it has taken the lazy but expensive option of continuing the Coalition’s misguided policy.

Private health insurance fails on every conceivable criterion of public policy – economic efficiency, bureaucratic costs, and equity. In drawing resources away from public hospitals it is almost certainly worsening public hospital waiting times.

As The Economist points out, with the backing of private insurance “government doctors and nurses may be encouraged to divert time to lucrative private patients”.

But, far from explaining the economic shortcomings of private insurance, the Government has gone in the opposite direction: the Minister’s press release concludes with the self-congratulatory message that hospital cover, at 44.7 percent of the population, is now the highest level in nine years.

Is it possible that the Minister and her advisers don’t understand the economics of health care?”

• Meanwhile, Nick Miller in his blog at The Age has been having a bit of fun at the expense of the PHI industry.

• Update (Feb 26): A strongly worded oped published by Fairfax that concludes: “Health insurance rebates and safety net subsidies to the rich significantly detract from Medicare’s great strength – its universality. If we want to seriously reform healthcare in the interests of all, these measures should be among the first to go.” The oped is by Charles Livingstone, a senior lecturer in the department of health social science at Monash University, and Michael Taylor,  a research fellow at the Australian Institute for Primary Care at La Trobe University.

Comments 20

  1. SuperPuppy says:

    Dear Readers,

    The simple table above is misleading. The inflation indicator to use is healthcare inflation, which generally runs higher than general CPI.

    Every year costs go up by 1 percent just because the population ages. Factor in contributing cost issues such as big pay rises to the nursing sector (and the cost of Porsches this year) and the premium increase this year is higher than we’d want as customers – yet relatively modest.

    Not for profit health funds operate on very low underwriting margins (refer to the PHIAC annual review) and this sector is largely operates on a cost plus basis.

    It seems odd that such a ‘socialist idea’ of pooling money together to help one anothers’ medical costs has such enemies. Most health funds started off helping the working class when the government didn’t have affordable and timely hospital treatment!

    People may be more open to alternative ‘public’ models once the issue of public hospital elective surgery waiting lists is resolved. This issue is far more complex than most would have us believe. So for now, I’ll come up with a revised table to shed more light on the argument…

    Jonathan Crabtree
    Founder | Dogtors.info and
    http://www.HealthInsuranceHounds.com

  2. SuperPuppy says:

    HEALTH INSURANCE ECONOMIC UPDATE

    In 2009 health CPI was 4.70% & premiums rose 5.8% 3 months later. ie 1.10% real
    In 2008 health CPI was 4.94% & premiums rose 6.0% 3 months later. ie 1.06% real

    Notably health insurance is in a different CPI basket along with all insurances.

    So who’ll be reporting on the much bigger increases in general insurance premiums where margins run at 20-30 percent?

    Of course health insurance can cost quite a bit which is why it makes sense for both health insurance funds and the public to get behind http://HealthInsuranceHounds.com

    Best wishes,
    Jonathan Crabtree
    Founder | Dogtors.info and
    http://HealthInsuranceHounds.com

    SOURCE: ABS. 1350.0 – Australian Economic Indicators, Feb 2010

  3. Doctor Whom says:

    I don’t have much sympathy for the insurance funds at all but it should be acknowledged that the CPI measures a very limited basket of goods even for households.

    The CPI as it is currently composed is well past its use by date. And is currently undergoing a big review.

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Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC