Household Budget Pressure - Private Health Insurance

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:22): The budgets that a government brings down and the amendments that are made in the half-yearly review—examples of which are now before this chamber for consideration—tell us everything that we need to know about any government's priorities. They are there for all to see in the bills before us today, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2017-2018 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2017-2018. This government's priority is to pursue tax cuts for millionaires, the big end of town and large businesses, with some sort of discredited trickle-down theory attempting to convince the general public that this is going to be to their broader benefit. It's interesting to note that the Prime Minister, having visited the US in recent days, has again reiterated his view that this is the way to go for the Australian experience in the Australian economy.

There is a glaring chasm of difference between what I am hearing directly from my community—and I'm sure my colleagues are hearing as well—and the government's view of what is needed and its priorities as reflected in these bills. What I hear consistently from local constituents is that they are feeling squeezed. They are finding it harder and harder to bring sufficient income into their households to meet the increasing costs of living that they are facing across the board. It doesn't matter whether they are wage earners, small business owners or people on a pension or an income support payment of some sort. All across the board, the feedback is about the pressure that is caused because the money coming into their households, however they are made up, is becoming increasingly less able to meet the costs of living that they face.

I want to take the few minutes that are left to me in this debate to report some things the House. Because I wanted to get a deeper sense of how all this is playing out in my community, I launched a survey asking people to give me some feedback—whatever they were comfortable with—about the issues of wage pressures and cost pressures in their households.

In just over 48 hours 800 local people had gone online to complete that survey. That tells me, as I'm sure it will be the case in many electorates, that this is a really pressing issue for local people. I want to highlight one aspect.

I particularly asked questions around health and private health insurance because it's a debate that we're having at the national level. In response to the question asking people what items were causing pressure on their family budget, 40 per cent indicated that the cost of doctors and specialist visits was an issue, 30 per cent indicated that the cost of pharmaceuticals was an issue and 55 per cent indicated that the cost of their private health insurance was an issue. There has been the combination of the government ticking off on private health insurance rises year after year and the stubborn policy that means that people are paying more for their visits to doctors and specialists, and for a range of diagnostic testing as well, as the gap widens and deepens in terms of the cost that they are paying. This aspect of health in the family budget is becoming a real problem. I think it's an indictment on the government that they are not addressing policies that will alleviate some of that pressure and give people some peace of mind that they can get the health care they need when they need it and not be forced to make decisions about whether they will buy groceries this week, have an x-ray scan or continue to pay for private health insurance to cover them—or any of those really difficult decisions families are faced with.

I will give the House an idea of some of the comments I received in the survey.

Jason said:

Even though I have good coverage, the Basic things like massages and chiro have been heavily cut back. Medicines are always being removed from any coverage and the cost of insurance is always increasing, but not the coverage.

I think Jason's last comment there really captured the common frustration people are expressing with private health insurance—the cost is always increasing, not the coverage. That is a frustration.

Martin said:

Not considered value for money. The premiums keep going up and the cover (i.e. exclusions) keep reducing. The gap payments are excessive and keep increasing.

Helen wrote to me:

It was recently useful when my partner had to have surgery. We had to pay the excess only for the actual hospital stay … However the specialists can charge what they like despite supposed agreements with private hospitals, so we were very out of pocket with the copayments and any specialist visits subsequently. There were 3 specialists involved.

Roslyn said:

My health fund does not cover anything like the amount doctors charge.

Scott said:

The scheduled fees are almost always much less than the actual medical costs (especially in the private system), which always has to be made up in the form of gap payments on top of your private health insurance premiums.

There is a lot of frustration and a lot of concern out in our communities about the pressures on family budgets. We have before us appropriation bills once again that are about decreasing the income coming in—in this case for pensioners with the plan to abolish the energy supplement and for students with increased costs. Across the board people are feeling the pressure on their budgets. They're having increased costs for really critical issues like health. The government's priorities are completely wrong. I think that this legislation is a continuation of that problem.