Private health insurance in primary care – a letter to Peter Dutton

Brett Holmes, General Secretary, has written to Peter Dutton, federal Minister for Health, putting on record the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association’s opposition to letting the private health insurance industry into primary health care.

31 October 2014

The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Health
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister,

RE: Private Health Insurance in the primary care sector

I wish to place on the record my Association’s opposition to the introduction of private health insurance into primary health care.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) seeks to protect and advance the interests of nurses and midwives and the nursing and midwifery professions.  We are also dedicated to improving standards of patient care and the quality of health and aged care services.  We are committed to the notion of health as a public good with shared benefits and shared responsibilities.  We believe that access to adequate healthcare is the right of every Australian and a crucial element of the Australian social compact.  We are committed to publicly funded universal health insurance as the most efficient and effective mechanism to distribute resources in a manner that generally ensures timely and equitable access to affordable healthcare on the basis of clinical need rather than capacity to pay.

It is well understood that the prohibition on private health insurance coverage in the primary care sector has been an important lever that has contained costs and supported equity in access for GP care.  As we confront the challenges of the aging population, particularly growth in demand for management of chronic illness, this cost-containment is vital to ensure timely access to care and manageable costs overall.

While there will be clear benefits for fund members, what are the benefits for the uninsured?  Providing preferential access to privately insured patients (what point would there be in purchasing insurance otherwise?) will further entrench a 2-tier system and stands in stark contrast to the principles of equity and universal access which underpin the Australian healthcare system.

It will also exacerbate the gap between health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians as the rates of private insurance uptake in that community are very low.  Those without private health insurance will experience reduced or delayed access, worsening health status and will increasingly burden public hospitals with avoidable complications and admissions.

The notion that an insurance entity should have a role in dictating when and how a patient can access primary care is completely rejected by my membership.  Access to that care must be on the basis of need; it must not be determined by private health membership status.

Yours sincerely


General Secretary

For further discussion of this issue, read the Croakey blog.

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