Bendigo Bowen therapist says federal government's health insurance reform a threat to patient choice, therapy business

A natural therapist in Bendigo has decried the government’s proposed changes to private health insurance, saying the reforms put at risk people’s control over their own health care. 

Federal health minister Greg Hunt is today expected to announce sweeping reforms to private health cover, allowing insurers to charge higher excesses and offer discounts to customers aged under 30. 

But the changes, which seek to rein in premium prices and prevent an exodus of customers from the industry, would also mean removing the rebate from natural therapies.  

Sam Hamilton, who operates a Maiden Gully Bowen therapy clinic, said that would leave the community with fewer affordable health care choices.  

Bowen therapy, a form of massage treatment, is believed to be among natural therapies for which people will no longer be able to claim a health insurance rebate.

The changes will also cut off government rebates for reiki, reflexology, yoga and Pilates.

About 90 per cent of Ms Hamilton’s clientele were privately insured, she said, and the proposed changes left their patronage in doubt.

The annual cost of training and professional registration also meant she could not lower her prices to compensate for the rebate’s removal.  

“By coming in and getting a treatment with someone, they’re at least getting some value for their money,” she said, believing many people who already considered premiums too high would drop their coverage altogether if access to natural therapy was removed. 

Ms Hamilton said more people were investigating treatments that were not pharmaceutical and while natural therapies did not work for everyone, that should not mean people who wanted them should be priced out. 

“The proof is in the pudding: people come and they get results,” she said.

“One therapy doesn't work for every person, another will work for someone else.”

Fairfax Media is reporting that, in changes that would constitute the biggest shakeup of the sector since the Howard era, consumers will to choose higher excesses to lower the premiums they pay.

The maximum permitted excesses for private hospital insurance will rise from $500 to $750 for singles and from $1000 to $1500 for couples and families.

From 2019 insurers will also be able to offer discounted private hospital cover to people aged 18 to 29 – something currently prevented under legislation that prohibits offering premium discounts to people on the basis of their age – in a bid to attract more young people into coverage.

Insurers will be able to offer premium discounts of up to two per cent for each year that a person is aged under 30, to a maximum of 10 per cent. These discounts will be gradually phased out once a policy holder turns 40.