So, what was all that about?


The private health sector is still scratching its head after Bill Shorten's fierce but ultimately equivocal address to the National Press Club.

In an address that focussed significantly on cost-of-living pressures, the Labor leader accused private health insurers of, amongst other things, engaging in a "con" and treating their members as "mugs".

He lambasted insurers over their profitability, of "having a stack of cash in the bank", and of "gouging people on the basis of a con".

Mr Shorten did not elaborate on his accusations or make any specific commitments in relation to reform. In fact, despite the seriousness of the allegations, he committed a future Labor government to working with the sector on affordability issues.

It is unclear how that might differ from the ongoing processes established by the Coalition government.

The Labor leader was initially non-committal in response to questions on potential reforms to the private health insurance rebate. His equivocation left the door open to health minister Greg Hunt who was quick to accuse Labor of planning to 'slash' the rebate that is actually paid to consumers. 

In a subsequent statement, shadow health minister Catherine King said Labor had no plans to make any changes to the rebate "at this stage". In his own follow-up interview yesterday, Mr Shorten ruled out abolishing the rebate, telling media a future Labor government would simply 'meet' private health insurers to discuss premiums.

The former Labor government made a number of changes to the rebate, including applying a means test and indexation to the consumer price index, which is lower than the average annual premium increases.

The changes, which have been retained by the Coalition since its election in 2013, have contributed to the rising affordability issue both major parties are now seeking to address.

The speech has clearly put the sector on high alert but, besides the language and knowing it faces ongoing scrutiny at the heart of the pre-election political debate, it is really none the wiser about anything specific it might face under a future Labor government.