Shorten challenges Turnbull to health debate

LABOR leader Bill Shorten has challenged Malcolm Turnbull to a public debate on health in the final week of by-election campaigning.

The Labor leader told reporters in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon on Monday he would like to debate the prime minister, ahead of five by-elections being held on July 28.

"How about we get him out of his ivory tower and invitation-only events and have a debate on health care in Braddon next week?" Mr Shorten said.

The news comes after Mr Shorten called out NIB, Bupa and Medibank saying "the party's over" as he promised to cap premium rises at two per cent each year if Labor wins government.

But he also reassured smaller health funds that they won't be unnecessarily targeted.

"We will listen to them, we will work with them to make sure there's no unintended consequences," Mr Shorten told reporters on Monday.

"The small funds are not the target of this issue."

A confidential email obtained by The Australian has confirmed that Members Health Fund Alliance CEO Matthew Koce had a private meeting with Mr Shorten at Parliament House in Canberra in June where he received assurances that smaller funds would not be targeted by Labor's plan.

"The Opposition Leader and his office now appear to realise how devastating a 2 per cent cap would be to our sector and that it would perversely drive consolidation with the big, listed health insurers - who are the real target of the 2 per cent cap policy," Mr Koce, wrote in the confidential email.

Mr Koce leads the lobby group which represents 23 smaller health funds.

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is being selective with his proposed health fund cap.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is being selective with his proposed health fund cap.

"We are working directly with Bill Shorten and his office on finding a mechanism to protect our funds," he said. "The Opposition Leader and his office now appear to realise how devastating a 2 per cent cap would be to our sector and that it would perversely drive consolidation with the big, listed health insurers - who are the real target of the 2 per cent cap policy," the email also stated.

The smaller funds mostly cover workers in regional areas and heavily unionised sectors such as nursing, teaching and mining.

Mr Shorten's reverse on his health premium plan would be the third time he has backflipped on policy after he backed down on his plan to tax retirees over their dividend imputation credits, and his "captain's call" on repealing legislated company tax cuts.

The report comes after federal Health Minister Greg Hunt unveiled a new health insurance ratings system to make it easier for consumers to choose a fund.

The minimum hospital treatments covered by the new policy bands - Gold, Silver, Bronze and Basic - will come into place next April.

Mr Hunt said the system will not lead to a change in prices for procedures, but allows consumers to easily see what their policies pay for.

"For the first time, people will be able to see on a single page what is included and what isn't," he said yesterday.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt (left) announced an overhaul of the private health insurance system to introduce tiers for treatments.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt (left) announced an overhaul of the private health insurance system to introduce tiers for treatments.

"We're not changing policies, we're categorising them so that everybody can see very simply what's in, what's out. Exactly what they are personally covered for."

He said a gold policy includes everything, including treatments many people don't need.

"One of the great complaints that we have is that many males, many women beyond child bearing age will say, I've only just discovered I'm being covered for pregnancy when of course there's no need for that," he said.

The government has recommended that 20 basic hospital treatments including appendix surgeries, chemotherapy and tonsillectomies would be covered by all bronze policies, but other procedures such as IVF and joint replacements would be in the top gold band.

Mr Shorten's office has not commented on the email or any meetings with Mr Koce.



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