Call for Senate Inquiry into private health insurers and differential rebates

28 June 2016

After working closely with the ADA, and its South Australian Branch, over the last few months, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has today announced that if re-elected, he will seek a Senate Inquiry into the behaviour of private health insurers which will specifically examine:

•    The discriminatory nature of rebates between so-called preferred and non-preferred providers;
•     The complexity and lack of transparency of health insurance policies
•     The appropriateness and inherent conflicts of insurers also directly providing dental services;
•    The short and long-term impacts of current practices on the quality of patient care.

In addition to providing depth and substance on key issues, the ADA was able to provide Senator Xenophon with firsthand accounts from private health insurance customers, not only from his home state of South Australia where Bupa holds the lion’s share of private health insurance policies, but across the country and across a number of funds.  

The ADA was also able to enlist the support of other health professions in demonstrating to Senator Xenophon that these issues do not affect the dental sector alone. Optometry Australia, the Australian Physiotherapy Association and the Podiatry Council of Australia contributed similar examples of possible anti-competitive and misuse of market power by health insurers.

While supportive of the role of private health insurance in ensuring a strong health system, Senator Xenophon was critical of some of the behaviours that had been reported to him.

“Health professionals are demanding rebate equality as currently insurers provide discriminatory rates of rebates between patients attending the health provider of their choice and those who are contracted as ‘preferred providers’,” Senator Xenophon said.

For some time, insurers have used data from independent health professionals without the consent of these practitioners. More recently insurers have also used the data from their ‘preferred providers’ to direct customers to the funds’ own clinics, a practice which many professionals see as a clear conflict of interest.

Be assured that should Senator Xenophon be re-elected and the Inquiry goes ahead, the ADA will be closely involved, acting, as always, in the best interests of dental profession and the patients they serve.