Transcript
Station: Sky News Live
Program: Live Now
Date: 9/03/2018
Time: 9:52 AM
Compere: Samantha Maiden
Interviewee: Dr Rachel David, CEO, Private Healthcare Australia

 

SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Now, yesterday on the program we spoke to the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, about his agenda for the reform of the private health insurance sector. He wanted to see more money taken out of, essentially, dental services – he didn’t think we were getting much value for money. That is not something that I suspect our next guest will agree with. Joining me now live from Sydney is Rachel David, chief executive of the Private Healthcare Australia.

Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL DAVID: Good morning, Sam.
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: You’ve had an opportunity to have a look through Richard Di Natale’s speech to the Sydney Institute and what he’s proposing. We did ask him yesterday if what he was outlining would actually lead to more people dropping out of private health insurance potentially. What’s your thoughts?
RACHEL DAVID: Well look, I think the first point is that what Dr Di Natale is suggesting makes no economic sense, and would potentially result in hundreds of thousands of people on lower incomes missing out on essential plan surgery and dental care.

To explain it in more detail, there’s a $6 billion rebate that gets paid to people – not health funds, but to members – on lower incomes to help them afford access to elective surgery, essential elective surgery, dental care and mental health admissions, among other things.

Now, the public hospital system is funded to the tune of almost $60 billion. The private system, with that $6 billion rebate, covers two-thirds of non-emergency surgery and 40 million services a year in dental care. The public system covers one-third of surgery, but just under 2 million dental services are provided in the public system.

So, in fact, by taking that $6 billion away, he’s going to leave- and if the system for funding, as it probably would, for elective surgery and dental care would dramatically deteriorate at the point, how on earth would the public system be able to cope with the additional demand for those services, which would triple for surgery and go through the roof for dental care? $6 billion would be a drop in the ocean in terms of what would be required.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Does he have a point, though, in relation to oral health in this country? We’ve heard in recent days that, I think, one in ten children, by the time they’re teenagers, have had an adult tooth removed. You can’t really go back and fix that, and it’s just so expensive for people to go to the dentist that maybe we have to prioritise what we’re spending in health, and if we are spending $6 billion on this rebate and there’s a lot of waste in that, that maybe the priority should be the public provision of dental services, particularly to children.
RACHEL DAVID: Look, just to be clear, the biggest single funder of dental services, the biggest single third-party funder of dental services in Australia is private health insurance. Private health insurance provides, by reimbursement, 40 million dental services per year, and it’s also the biggest provider of dental services to low and middle income earners. Dentistry in Australia has traditionally been a cottage industry with a large number of independent providers, not a lot of control over input costs, and it’s been very expensive for consumers to access with not a lot of transparency about what they need to pay.

What health funds have been able to do is to vertically integrate and create dental practices where there’s a lot of certainty for consumers about cost, and a very large number of preventive dental services are provided with no out of pocket cost. The Government, both state and federal in Australia have been reducing their funding for dental services as the funding through private health insurance has increased.

If you took the rebate away and reinvested the whole lot, the whole $6 billion in dental care, and trashed the private health insurance contribution, the amount of money that would be available for each Australian would be $137 to fund their dental care, and at the moment, that wouldn’t even fund a person to get their teeth checked and cleaned. It is far too little money, and it just wouldn’t solve the problem in any way.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN: You make some excellent points, and we look forward to talking with you about it again on another day. Thank you very much for your time today, Rachel.
RACHEL DAVID: Thanks Sam.
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: That’s Rachel David there from the Private Healthcare group.
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