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

Station: ABC Radio Brisbane
Program: Breakfast
Date: 4/1/2021
Time: 7:30 AM
Compere: Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan
Interviewee: Ben Harris, Director of Policy and Research, Private Healthcare Australia


KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: Changes come into effect this year which mean that people can stay under their parent’s health insurance until the age – well, it has been 25, it’s now going to increase to 31. The reason? Well, in part it’s because kids are staying in education and living at home longer.

Ben Harris is the Director of Research and Policy at Private Healthcare Australia. Ben Harris, good morning.

BEN HARRIS: Good morning, Kelly. How are you?
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: Good. Look – 31 took me aback a bit. Like, I understand 25 because that’s the average uni degree and, like you know, out of the nest after that, off you go. But 31? Like, you’re well and truly an adult and should be- I don’t know. It just seems like, wow, still under your parent’s health policy. So what’s behind this change?
BEN HARRIS: Well, Kelly as you said, many people leave home at 17, 18, financially independent and that’s great. For others, they still do struggle a bit. We know housing prices are out of control in most capital cities; we know people are staying at uni; and, there are a number of people who are dependent on their parents well into their 20s and even, even longer. So we thought it was really important that people can be covered by their private health insurance when they are still dependent on their parents. Twenty-four’s a bit of an arbitrary cut-off – let’s make it a bit, make it a bit higher and make sure that everyone can be covered.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: Now, that age of 31, was that chosen because that’s the age at which we start to penalise people if they don’t have their own private health insurance?
BEN HARRIS: Yeah, that’s right. So if you get your private health insurance before the age of 31, you’ve locked in a good price to the rest of your life – after that, there’s a lifetime health cover loading that goes on there. But remember, for most people they will be financially independent, they’ll be able to pay their own way with private health insurance. But for many, many Australians, an increasing number of Australians will be dependent on their parents.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: How has COVID affected private health insurance, Ben?
BEN HARRIS: Private Health Insurance has been so important during COVID, not only providing services but making sure that we’re able to look after people who are directly affected by COVID and the economic consequences.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: How many people have, have dropped out of Private Health Insurance over the last year?
BEN HARRIS: It’s actually- over the last year it’s been a small decrease. But over the last three months to September, the last figures we’ve got, it was, there was actually an increase in people with Private Health Insurance. More and more Australians know that Private Health Insurance will be really important over the next few years as the public health system becomes- comes under huge pressure.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: What impact do you expect that putting the age up will, will have on Private Health Insurance? Is this also an incentive for older Australians to keep their Private Health Insurance so that their children are still under that umbrella.
BEN HARRIS: Well, many- most older Australians in that age group – 50, 60 – are hanging onto their Private Health Insurance because they remember what happened last time to the public hospital system when there was a recession. And we’re seeing many, many people pick up Private Health Insurance when they’re looking at the public hospital waiting lists. Public hospitals are doing an outstanding job, but the pressure they’re under at the moment is just extreme.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: But there have been- I mean, you’ve talked about the last three months and the fact that the, the uptake has gone up, but the figures are that there are lots of people dropping their Private Health Insurance as well.
BEN HARRIS: Yes. Over the last five years or so it’s gone from about – in the age groups we’re talking about under, under 50’s – it’s been- it has been dropping fairly steadily. It has been stabilising, and we’re hoping it will begin to increase. But the largest drop has been in that group, about from 25 to 30, and we know that that’s, that’s a really important time for health insurance because we’ve seen, in particular, mental health claims go through the roof over the last few years. We know younger people need private health insurance to get access to things like mental health services, and we want to make sure that people are dependent on their parents – they’re not arbitrarily kicked out of private health insurance at age 24.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: So what, what do you have to do to remain under your parent’s health, private health policy if you are under 31?
BEN HARRIS: So the government will need to change the legislation, and we’re hoping they’ll be able to do that before 1 April when this is due to come in. We don’t have the details of that legislation, but what we’re expecting is it’ll be very similar to as it is now for young people under 24, a simple declaration that the young person is still dependent, living at home and, and the individual insurers may have other conditions.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: All right. Ben Harris, thank you very much for your time this morning.
BEN HARRIS: Thanks, Kelly.
KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE: Ben Harris, Director of Research and Policy at Private Health Care Australia.
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