Early election message: consumers show they want health insurance they can value

Health consumers have shown overwhelmingly that they want a health insurance system they can understand, value and trust, the Consumers Health Forum says.

“The MyCover plan for simpler, easily comparable health fund policies proposed by the Consumers Health Forum has drawn 94 per cent support in a petition survey independently conducted by One Big Switch,” the CEO of CHF, Leanne Wells, said today.

“And no wonder more than 90 per cent of the 40,000 people who responded to the survey said they found it difficult to compare health fund policies. Consumers have to navigate their way through so much complex and confusing detail that the idea of comparing policies to get a better deal often seems futile.

“The Consumers Health Forum has proposed to the Government that the health insurance rebate should be withdrawn from those policies which fail to meet set consumer-friendly standards of simplicity and comparability. These standards should be designed by industry, government, clinician and consumer groups.

“With an early election now possible, we hope the Government will take steps to implement reforms to require health insurance deliver a better deal for consumers. At the moment, the widespread view is that health insurance is a burden that is costing more and delivering less to taxpayers and consumers.

“Health insurance receives exceptional Government assistance in the form of the $6 billion a year taxpayer-financed rebate and a myriad of carrot and stick regulations to coax people to take out insurance.

“For the past 15 years consumers have had to pay premiums rising at more than double the inflation rate. While families and individuals struggle to keep up their payments, the private health sector experiences buoyant results.

“It is important that MyCover is accompanied by arrangements where consumers and referring GPs have greater visibility on the fees and performance of hospitals and specialists. A more transparent system would result in more informed decisions about referrals and treatments, as well as drive greater competition and scrutiny of health system costs.

“The baffling nature of private health insurance has been highlighted by the Australian Medical Association’s recent report card on the subject.

“The intricacy of varying benefit levels offered by health funds, the confusing 75 per cent Medicare benefit rate and the uncertainty about whether the patient will pay a gap, no gap or a “known” gap, make for a maze of knowns and unknowns. And that’s before widely varying doctors’ fees are accounted for.

“The result can mean differences in the order of more than a thousand dollars in what insured patients may have to pay out of pocket for the same operation.

“The AMA report recommends that consumers ask their medical practitioner for an estimate regarding the cost of their treatment and any prosthesis, including Medicare item numbers, then to contact their health fund to find out what they may face in out of pocket costs.

“That places unreasonable demands on consumers to deal with such complicated matters at a time of high anxiety about a forthcoming operation, if indeed they have the time and ability to do so.

“Imposing stronger requirements on the health funds to develop simpler, comparable policies, will drive a more transparent and accountable system,” Ms Wells said.


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