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Health charges a bitter pill

THE sickening hike in health fund charges will dim hopes of keeping a lid on inflation this year. Medibank Private was first ambulance off the rank with a 9 per cent hike in premiums. Now we learn the company is doubling the excesses many members will pay for one-day hospital visits from $100 to $200. Annual maximum imposts for the average family also will jump – from $600 to $1,000. In a letter to its three million clients, Medi-bank says the extra charges will be delayed until May 15, and it will throw in free massages. Thanks a bunch.

For a couple with top cover, premiums will jump from $1,420 to $1,650 a year, after the Government’s 30 per cent rebate. Those with more basic plans will, perhaps, be only $10-a-month worse off – provided they do not cop fat out-of-pocket hospital costs.

Add on rising petrol prices, higher mortgage payments and other interest charges on the way, and the pay cheque will start to get stretched. Whether the Government talks about core, or non-core inflation, you still have to put your hand in your pocket.

The cost and quality of health care in Australia remains a bargain compared with most countries. But we seem to be on a slippery slope. Medibank, which was rumored to be considering a stock market float a few months ago, complains of an “explosion” in same-day hospital procedures. This might be because, if you can crawl or hop on one leg these days, you are discharged from hospital within hours of surgery. The chronic shortage of nursing staff is the major contributor to this problem.

More than two million new fund members signed up for health cover when the Government introduced the rebate. It’s not often you find an industry complaining about having too many customers, and then bumping up prices to discourage them.

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