Govt moves to reform private health

A federal government push to reform the troubled private health insurance industry has been met with criticism, with consumers and industry calling for deeper scrutiny.

Health Minister Sussan Ley has announced her department officials will meet with industry and consumer groups in coming weeks to look at cleaning up unnecessary and inefficient regulations which drive up the cost of premiums.

Former competition watchdog chair Graeme Samuel will be lending his expertise to the process, while consumers can also provide online feedback

It comes as the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman reports a 24 per cent jump in complaints received over the past year, to 4265.

Consumers Health Forum chief executive Leanne Wells is calling for a Productivity Commission inquiry into the industry which receives $6 billion of taxpayer funds each year.

She says one expert and a roundtable process won't go far enough.

"It is highly unlikely that anything but an in-depth examination will get to the inherent supply and demand problems of the system, Ms Wells said.

The system consistently drives health insurance premiums and rebate costs up, she said.

This leaves consumers, "captive to a system that most find a frustrating burden."

Ms Ley told the National Press Club on Wednesday consumers were becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of value for money they get from private health insurance.

They're unhappy about price rises and policies that often turned out to be "junk" because they don't deliver the care they expect.

Meanwhile, insurers are concerned and frustrated that unnecessary red tape is stopping them from offering consumers the best value services.

Insurers felt "straight-jacketed by regulation" and the inability to change some of the parameters of their policies, the minister said.

"I'm sympathetic to a message about over-regulation," Ms Ley said.

"Everything is going to be on the table in terms of how people might want the system to look or how they may want it not to look."

Private health insurers welcomed the review. But Medibank boss George Savvides said it would need to go further than looking at regulation within private health.

He says it should look at rising costs across the whole health system, which are driving growth in insurance premiums.

Bupa managing director of health insurance Dr Dwayne Crombie said the review must address affordability pressures.

Without this, consumers will either downgrade their policies or drop out altogether, putting greater pressure on the already over-burdened public health system, he says.


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