Chris Bowen: Give consideration to deferring premium increase

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Shadow health minister Chris Bowen says consideration should be given to deferring the scheduled 1 April private health insurance premium increases.

Health minister Greg Hunt and the private health insurers have already acknowledged discussions have been ongoing regarding the average 2.9 per cent increase that was approved last year.

The average increase was the lowest in 19 years but the economic shock related to COVID-19 and the response is causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The shutdown in most elective surgery, which was announced yesterday, will also have flow-on effects to the private health system.

Speaking at a media conference yesterday, Mr Bowen said the issue of deferring the 1 April increases is complex given the need to ensure private insurers remain viable but it should be considered.

Chief executive of Private Healthcare Australia, Dr Rachel David, told radio 5AA in Adelaide, "Well look, people who are facing financial hardship as a result of the current crisis we are very keen to ensure that their first reaction is not to drop their health cover. The first thing they should do is ring their health funds, because we've been given authorisation to provide relief to people in that situation – either because they've lost their job or because their hours have been dramatically reduced.

She added, "Some funds are going to be offering deep discounts on premiums for people in that category and some funds will be waiving them altogether for a specific period of time. It will differ slightly depending on who you're insured with but every fund will be taking steps to provide people in financial hardship with the some relief."