Health insurance companies are trying to figure out how they will cope with the fallout from the government’s controversial changes to medical insurance policies.
Key points:AAP/AAP 1:30 Medical insurance premiums have been raised by almost 5 per cent in two monthsAAP 2:00 Medical insurance companies fear a shortage of doctors and hospitals because of the changesAAP 3:00 More than 1,000 doctors have quit the sector, and another 300 have already quit their job for medical reasonsAAP 4:00The Government is proposing to raise medical insurance premiums by more than 5 per 100 Australian dollars (about $12) a year from 1 July, to cover a number of different types of health services.
The changes, which have been opposed by medical professionals, include raising premiums for a wide range of services, including dental and vision care.
There are currently no plans to increase premiums in general health insurance or Medicare, but Health Minister Peter Dutton says he will “bring forward” changes to cover some areas of the market.
Under the changes, a primary care doctor or specialist will have to pay $1,000 more for their medical insurance than a general practitioner or an obstetrician.
The Government says the increases will be phased in over three years, and will apply to all primary care doctors and specialists.
But the changes will also affect hospitals and health insurance companies.
The Health Insurance Council of Australia (HICA) says a shortage is looming because of an increasing number of people who cannot afford to go to a hospital.HICAs chief executive, Mark Williams, says the health insurance premiums increase will force hospitals and medical providers to reduce their services and make their patients wait longer for treatment.
He says the Government is “not doing anything to make things better” and has “gone down the wrong path” by “creating a situation where you can’t go to your doctor at the moment”.
The changes will affect doctors, including dentists and nurses, who will have been allowed to continue their practice while waiting for the increases.
But Dr Williams says the changes are also likely to have a negative impact on hospitals.
“The more people you have to wait for, the more expensive it is,” he said.
“And you don’t want people going into hospitals with high-cost conditions, which is the case now.”
Health insurance companies say the Government has failed to protect them from the impact of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and the cost of living increase (CO-LIMA).
“It’s going to be a significant cost for health insurers to have to cover this increase,” says Dr Williams.
“They’ll be going through an additional increase in costs.”HICIs chief executive Dr Mark Williams says some patients are not getting the medical care they need.
He warns that the Government’s plans to cover health insurance costs for patients in certain situations will have a “significant impact” on their lives.
“People will be having to spend extra time with their family and be more dependent on them to get through a period of time,” he says.
“That’s not good for them, and that’s not going to help their wellbeing.”‘
We are just not prepared’In response to the criticism, Health Minister Dutton said on Monday that “the Government has worked hard to address the impact on the healthcare system”.
“It is fair to say that the changes we have proposed will be effective in reducing the need for people to go into hospitals,” he wrote on Facebook.
“But we know that not everyone will be able to afford it.”
Dr Williams says while the Government may have addressed the issue of shortages of primary care and general practice doctors, he has “not seen any meaningful progress” in improving access to care for people with mental health conditions.
“This is a huge concern,” he told the ABC.
“We are only able to provide care in one part of the country at a time.”
He says it will be critical for hospitals to provide better care for patients with mental illness.
“You don’t need to have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you don of course need a lot of other mental health issues, but if you’re dealing with those types of issues, then you need better care,” he explains.
“When you are in that type of situation you can get overwhelmed and overwhelmed with all of these different issues that are happening in your life and you need to be able and able to cope with that.”‘
More money in the system’Dr Williams also says the government has failed in its attempt to improve access to mental health services in the community.
“What they have done is put more money into the system,” he notes.
“In the last financial year they’ve increased their funding for community mental health, so they’ve added more money to the system.”
So that money is going to continue to be used to address these issues.