Greg Hunt: 'Very close to an agreement'

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Health minister Greg Hunt says he and his office have spoken to two leading private health insurers about contractual relationships with the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse.

The Chris O'Brien Lifehouse, located in Sydney, is a cancer hospital and treatment centre.

During an interview on 2GB with Ray Hadley, Mr Hunt was asked about Bupa's changes to its medical gap scheme that will be implemented from 1 August.

Under the change, the Bupa Medical Gap Scheme will only be available for treating doctors working in private hospitals that have an agreement with the insurer. 

The change has attracted some criticism, including from doctor groups, but Bupa says it has agreements covering over 96 percent of all private hospital beds across Australia. The insurer's members will still be covered for treatment at the hospitals without an agreement but the medical gap scheme will not be available.

Mr Hunt was questioned about the fact the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse is one hospital not covered by an agreement. Mr Hadley also questioned Mr Hunt about HCF not having an agreement with the hospital.

"...I got a call from a man whose wife is suffering with cancer who is treated there but he’s with Bupa. Can you enlighten me as to what’s going to happen here?" asked Mr Hadley.

In response, Mr Hunt said he had spoken to the Bupa CEO. "Now, the indication I have is that Bupa and the magnificent, magnificent Chris O’Brien Lifehouse are close to an agreement," he said.

"I have urged Bupa to be generous, to be constructive. But I did get very positive messages from the CEO last night. So we are doing our best as a federal government, it’s a private relationship but my involvement has been to very, very clearly urge for an agreement and on balance, I’m very optimistic."

He continued, " judgement is that they are very close to an agreement and I have urged them all to continue working. Because at the end of the day this is about patients, patients, patients and the most ill, the sickest of patients who have life-threatening cancers."

A spokesperson for Bupa told HealthDispatch, “We’re in very active negotiations and are hopefully of reaching a resolution very soon.”

On HCF, Mr Hadley said, "Now, I mean, it’s not my job to be putting pressure on HCF but I’ll tell you what, if Chris O’Brien Lifehouse ask me to do anything, I’ll do whatever I need to do to make sure that the pressure is there. Particularly as I pay a premium to HCF and if I happen to contract cancer, I want to be treated at the best place possible, that would be the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. And I’d be imploring HCF to get off their backsides and to do the same deal that Bupa are about to do. Would you agree?"

Mr Hunt said his office had spoken to the CEO of HCF, while he was travelling, and "urged them to work" on an agreement with the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

"They have not, until now, I’m advised, had a contract at all with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. So, it would be additional services compared with what is currently the case," he said.

HCF told HealthDispatch it would not comment on any negotiation. It said while it does not have a current agreement with the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, its members are still covered for treatment at the centre and hospital.