ABC Ballarat Breakfast program interview with Ben Harris on the extension of family health cover to children until age 31

Station: ABC Ballarat
Program: Breakfast
Date: 4/1/2021
Time: 8:47 AM
Compere: Steve Martin
Interviewee: Ben Harris, Director of Policy and Research, Private Healthcare Australia


ALI MOORE: Well private health care is always a hot issue, maybe even more so at the moment when we’re so focussed on our health. And one of the things that you’ve had to be aware of as a family is when your children drop off your family policy. Well, that is about to change. Ben Harris is the Director of Policy and Research at Private Healthcare Australia. Ben Harris. Good morning.
BEN HARRIS: Morning, Ali. How are you?
ALI MOORE: I’m well, thanks. The age limit to include your children in the family policy is being increased. It was 25, is that correct?
BEN HARRIS: That’s right.
ALI MOORE: And only if said child was studying? Or any 25-year-old?
BEN HARRIS: [Talks over] Yeah. So, it’s a bit complicated at the moment, but basically if you’re dependent on your parents up to the age of 25 then you can stay on your parent’s private health insurance policy. In April, that should change to 31.
ALI MOORE: Again, only if you’re dependent on your parents?
BEN HARRIS: Correct.
ALI MOORE: Wouldn’t be that many students who are still studying between 25 and 31, would there? What was the decision around 31?
BEN HARRIS: It doesn’t have to be just people studying. If you are dependent on your parents, then your- most funds will be providing services- providing policies where you can stay on your parents’ policy. More and more young Australians are out of work at the moment; more and more studying longer; and of course, the housing market is very, very tough for a lot of people to break into. We don’t want people dropping off private health insurance between the ages of 25 and 30, and we have seen a significant drop off over the last few years. So we need to make sure that those young people can stay covered, particularly for things like mental health care. We’ve seen mental health care in that age group just explode the last few years – we’ve actually tripled the number of services we’re paying for for mental health for young people over the last 14 years.
ALI MOORE: So in essence, is this designed to try and ensure that by the time people do drop off their family policy they’re in a better position to take out their own?
BEN HARRIS: Absolutely. We need to make sure that people are able to hang on to private health insurance. Australia’s health system needs that balance between a strong public system and a strong private system. And with the pressure on the public system is on- under at the moment, we’re going to see more and more people needing private health insurance into the future.
ALI MOORE: But how are you going to arrest that decline in private health insurance? And I guess in many ways, what we’ve just been through only further undermines private insurance because it’s all the publicly available care that people have been getting with COVID, and if you had private insurance, it was a waste of time anyway, because any private- most private operations or private procedures were put on hold.
BEN HARRIS: What we’ve seen is an amazing bounce back really quickly. After the first lockdown, one of the most common procedures – knee replacements – there was a 25 per cent increase within a month. The public system cannot ramp up that quickly. And in Victoria, we had more than 50,000 elective surgeries cancelled during COVID up to the end of September, and we don’t know yet to the end part of the year. But the private system has been able to bounce back really, really quickly to provide services – the public system is going to be taking a much longer time.
ALI MOORE: Well, we will- yeah, we’ll see how much of a- how many families are actually affected by this. Do you have any idea of- I mean you must actually, you must have some idea of how many people you’ve got who would have had family members dropping off?
BEN HARRIS: Yeah look, we think it’ll be many, many thousands. It won’t be huge because most people won’t be dependent on their parents at that age. But where you are, where you’re studying, where you’re out of work or where you’re living at home, for example, of course there’ll be many, many people in that circumstance between the ages of 25 and 30.
ALI MOORE: Ben Harris, thank you.
BEN HARRIS: Thanks, Ali.
ALI MOORE: Ben Harris is the Director of Policy and Research at Private Healthcare Australia.
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