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It has been called the biggest private health insurance shake-up in decades. So you might be wondering what the health reform changes mean for you as an allied health provider?
The answer to that is it really all depends. Some allied health professions could stand to benefit from the changes, whilst others may find themselves being in a worse position come April 2019.
What changes have been announced?
Health fund memberships have been falling by around 10,000 people a month due to increasing premiums that have overtaken the inflation rate.
In a bid to entice young people to take out private health insurance, the Government announced in October 2017 a wide ranging package of reforms to make it simpler and more affordable.
Legislation still needs to be passed through Parliament, however, some of the key areas of reform include:
- consumers will be able to choose higher excesses to lower their premiums.
- insurers will be required to categorise products as gold/silver/bronze/basic, and use standardised definitions for treatments to make comparing policies easier.
- requiring insurers to allow people with hospital insurance that does not offer full cover for mental health treatment to upgrade their cover and access mental health services without a waiting period on a once-off basis;
- allowing insurers to discount hospital insurance premiums for 18 to 29 year olds by up to 10 per cent, with the discount phasing out after people turn 40;
- allowing insurers to expand hospital insurance to offer travel and accommodation benefits for people in regional and rural areas that need to travel for treatment;
- preventing insurers from offering benefits for a range of natural therapies.
Natural therapies rebates abolished
Back in the 2012-13 Budget a Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for natural therapies was announced. With the aim of ensuring private health insurance covers clinically proven treatments.
Following the review the federal government has proposed that the following natural therapies be removed from all private health insurance products: Alexander technique, aromatherapy, Bowen therapy, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, pilates, reflexology, Rolfing, shiatsu, tai chi, and yoga.
Massage therapy and myotherapy will be retained as there is some quality evidence of clinical efficacy. Chiropractic, osteopathy, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are unaffected (rebates remain) as government regulated health professions.
Loss of focus on preventative health measures
The National Institute of Complementary Medicine stated that they did not believe the review reflected evidence for some therapies including herbal medicine, naturopathy, tai chi and yoga (along with most forms of exercise).
As an example, they refer to the effectiveness of tai chi in preventing falls. Concluding that a rebate for tai chi makes economic sense due to the aging population and their increased risk of falls. The cost on the health system for someone who has had a fall, would far outweigh the preventative costs of subsidised tai chi classes.
They believe that preventative health measures that some of the natural therapies offer would deliver long-term benefits to the community and government. Concluding that removing the rebate seems at odd with keeping a sustainable healthcare system.
Will you be impacted?
Consumers can still choose to access natural therapies. But from April 2019, private insurers may still cover these items, but they will no longer be eligible for Commonwealth subsidies.
This has the potential to make the price point of accessing these natural therapies unaffordable for those who rely on paying a subsidised cost for treatment.
The changes still need to be passed through parliament and a petition against removing the natural therapies rebates currently has more than 7,500 signatures. With various natural therapy organisations also campaigning against the changes.
On the other hand, those allied health professions that are still included in the rebates could potentially stand to benefit. With the predictions of more young people taking out insurance cover once the reforms are implemented, they may utilise their extras benefits on the likes of chiropractic, physiotherapy or massage treatments.
Is your practice prepared for the impact these health reforms could have on your business?