Private health insurance: the problem child faces adulthood

Aust Health Rev. 2002;25(2):38-51. doi: 10.1071/ah020038.


Since its election to office in 1996, reform of Private Health Insurance (PHI) has been the most obvious health policy focus of the Howard Government. The reform process has focussed on price, product, promotion, legislation and regulation. It has resulted in one of the largest new Commonwealth health outlays in recent memory. Health insurance funds have emerged as active purchasers of care, not just passive reimbursers of costs. PHI fund reserves have moved from precarious liquidity to healthy surplus. Private hospitals are busier than ever before, but margins are slim. Anecdotally, public hospitals report little benefit to date. Waiting lists have not been reduced, and their budgets are unchanged as a result of the $2 Bn allocated under the 30% Rebate scheme. The paper begins by describing the origins of the PHI reform. Its objectives, policy initiatives, results to date and criticisms are analysed. Criticisms include the actual and opportunity costs. Specific concerns remain as to its effectiveness to date in reducing pressure on public hospitals, and perceived lack of equity for certain client groups. The most significant result is that much of the reform package is here to stay including the expensive and much criticised 30% rebate. Like Medicare before it, the PHI reforms have achieved bipartisan support. The paper concludes by describing future implications for Government, industry, consumers and the medical profession.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Health Care Reform*
  • Health Policy
  • Hospitals, Private / economics
  • Hospitals, Private / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Public / economics
  • Hospitals, Public / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance Coverage / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance Coverage / trends
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • National Health Programs / economics*
  • Privatization / economics*