Medical fund members able to beat means test

Offering an extended pre-payment plan … Medibank.THE government’s health fund, Medibank Private, is offering members an extended pre-payment plan to beat the new means test, saving their members millions of dollars otherwise payable to the taxman.

Medibank, Australia’s biggest fund, is offering members the choice of paying their premiums up to 18 months ahead by July 1, to avoid additional costs. These can amount to $1500 or more for a member as a result of the withdrawal of the rebate worth up to 40 per cent of premium costs.

Medibank said it could not give a figure on how many had signed up to pay their premiums in advance.

Its closest rival, Bupa, which is offering prepayment for a maximum of a year, said its latest figures show 14,000 members have prepaid their premiums and that figure was likely to accelerate in the run-up to July 1.

From that day singles earning more than $84,000 and couples more than $168,000 get a reduced rebate which phases out completely for those on $130,000 and $260,000 respectively.

The government says the prepayment rush will not affect its planned savings of $2.8 billion over four years.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the current pause before imposing the means test provided the required window to inform taxpayers about the changes. ”Pre-payment of fees will not affect the forecast budget savings,” he said.

Asked whether the government had factored in the impact of prepayments on revenue, the spokesman said ”variables are factored in”.

While better-off people might be seeking to avoid extra costs, low-income Australians are finding it increasingly harder to afford healthcare, new official figures show.

Carol Bennett, the chief executive of Consumer Health Forum, said it was alarming that the number of people unable to afford the care they needed was rising. ”This is showing that inequity in healthcare is growing,” she said.

The reform council of the Council of Australian Governments says that the proportion of people who delayed or did not see a general practitioner because of cost has risen from 6.4 per cent in 2009 to 8.7 per cent in 2010-11.

The figures were even higher in NSW, up from 10.1 per cent to 15.4 per cent.

A significantly higher proportion of people, 26 per cent, delay seeing or do not see a dentist because of costs, while 15 per cent have the same difficulties seeing medical specialists.

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