Premium announcement imminent

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The announcement by health minister Greg Hunt of private health insurance premium increases is thought to be imminent.

The announcement, which is usually the first major health story of any year, is more anticipated than usual because of the reforms announced by Mr Hunt in October last year.

The reforms included price cuts to prostheses, which insurers have committed to pass on in full to consumers, along with a range of other changes to be implemented over time.

Speculation is this year's average premium increase will be around 3.9 per cent. That would make it the lowest average increase in around 15 years.

Premiums have risen at an average annual rate of 4-6 per cent over the past decade. At the same time, government spending on Medicare has risen at an average annual rate of over 5 per cent, while spending on public hospitals has increased by an average annual rate of almost 7 per cent.

There has been increasing concern over the affordability of private health insurance in recent years. A significant factor has been the shrinking contribution of government's private health insurance rebate.

Reforms to the rebate, which for most Australians used to cover 30 per cent of the cost of premiums, mean its share of premium is declining every year. The reforms included means testing and annual indexation to the consumer price index, which is generally lower than the average premium increase.