Private Health Rebate and Lifetime Health Cover: not perfect but doing the job

AMA President, Dr Kerryn Phelps, said today that the Federal Government's Private Health Rebate and Lifetime Health Cover should be maintained to ensure the proper balance between the public and private health sectors.

Dr Phelps said the AMA welcomes a lively policy debate and review of current private health policies in order to preserve and promote patients' choice for their health care.

"There is clear evidence that the 30 per cent rebate has lifted private health membership to acceptable levels and taken pressure off the public hospital system," Dr Phelps said.

"Lifetime Health Cover has encouraged people to stay in the private health system.

"But there is evidence, too, that the cost of the rebate to Government ? to taxpayers ? is in danger of blowing out to unsustainable levels unless there is effective competition between the health insurers. We need to see better-targeted products and a move away from non-vital ancillary products.

"But there are dangers in a sudden and total withdrawal of the rebate.

"Perhaps the most telling statistic is that total withdrawal of the rebate would require governments to spend much more than the $2.5 billion cost of the rebate to maintain services in our public hospitals as people deserted private health.

"So, without a properly costed viable alternative approach to keeping people in private health, it is the AMA's view that the current policies must stay in place."

Dr Phelps said health policy debate should not be limited to private health.

"With other areas of the health system ? including the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), bulk billing, medical indemnity, indigenous health, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and medical workforce ? all hitting the headlines at the moment, the time is right for a detailed and comprehensive health policy debate," Dr Phelps said.

"It is important, however, that the debate is based around better health outcomes for all Australians and not predicated solely on the budget bottom line.

"It is vital, too, that new health policy look to the long term and not the electoral term, and that the medical profession and patients be consulted in the policy development process," Dr Phelps said.

CONTACT: John Flannery (02) 6270 5477 / (0419) 494 761

Judith Tokley (02) 6270 5471 / (0408) 824 306

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