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Health insurance reforms to help seniors

A number of reforms to private health insurance have been announced by the federal government with the aim to make private health insurance ‘simpler and more affordable’ for Australians.

Prostheses include everything from a new knee or hip to a heart valve and are not optional extras (Source: Shutterstock)
Prostheses include everything from a new knee or hip to a heart valve and are not optional extras (Source: Shutterstock)

The announcement comes just a month after concerns about affordability for senior Australians were raised by seniors advocacy group National Seniors. 

National Seniors Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, says he welcomes the latest announcement to health insurance reforms, including Prosthesis List for devices that he says have been priced ‘too high for too long’.

He adds that the reforms aim to bring stability to a health insurance sector that is under pressure from falling memberships and that these reforms were ‘overdue’.

“Prostheses include everything from a new knee or hip to a heart valve,” Mr Henschke says.

“These are not optional extras – they are necessities to improve the lives of people, or even save their lives, so the reforms will help ensure seniors are not priced out of devices they may need urgently.”

He adds that device manufacturers and private hospitals have been reaping the benefits of high priced prostheses that cost, on average, double that of international benchmarks.

In a statement by Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, he says private health is an essential and valuable part of Australia’s health system.

“We know that every dollar matters to Australian families and these reforms will get better value for families and make policies easier to understand,” Minister Hunt says.

“We’re helping to reduce rising costs for health insurers – which could otherwise be passed on through higher premiums.”

Among other changes set to benefit older Australians, include a new rating system for health cover policies and extra resources for the Health Insurance Ombudsman to investigate health funds.

Mr Henschke says older people are welcoming these changes.

“Rating them [health cover policies] as gold, silver, bronze and basic is a lot simpler than the complex process in place at the moment,” he says.

“It will allow people choosing or switching health funds to compare policies more easily.”

While stating that the reforms are a step in the right direction, Mr Henshke says it remains to be seen if they can stop health fund members from downgrading their level of cover or dropping it altogether.

“Many older people are bailing out of health funds because they cannot afford to pay the premiums, as well as the power bill, and put food on the table,” he says.

“[They] have been paying into health insurance all their working lives, but when they are retired, often on low, fixed incomes, they are least able to afford the increasing premiums charged by health funds making healthy profits, which have been helped along by taxpayer subsidies.

“Any reform should also include an examination of fees for services in private hospitals.”

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