National

Shorten seeks lower private health bills

By AAP Newswire

Bill Shorten has put private health insurers "on notice" that a Labor government would not accept premium rises of a similar scale to recent years.

But the Labor leader, who laid out his plans for 2018 in a speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday, did not specify how he would deliver cheaper premiums.

"If you want to go to a barbecue and talk to a stranger, have a whinge about your private health insurance bill - you will make a friend straight away," Mr Shorten said.

He said there were a "number of options" on the table for the industry which received $6.5 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies and made some of the biggest profits of any Australian firms.

"I put private health insurance - the big-end multinationals - on notice. Business as usual does not work," Mr Shorten said.

He flagged examining the issue of exclusions in policies in consultation with the industry.

The most recent premium rise, to kick in on April 1, will cost families an extra $200 a year on average.

That is despite the 3.9 per cent rise being the lowest in 17 years.

Premiums rose 4.84 per cent last year and 50.7 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said health insurance cover would always be lower under the coalition.

"Labor has always hated private health insurance. In government, Labor cut $4 billion from the rebate and means-tested it," Mr Hunt said.

He said the end of waiting times for policy upgrades, discounts for young Australians and a $1.1 billion reduction in costs in the private health sector was taking pressure off premiums.

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said the government was failing to address a drop in private hospital coverage as well as a rise in premiums.

"Labor has been clear - we think the balance needs to be shifted towards Australian consumers and away from the pockets of the big insurers," she said in a statement.

"We are looking at a series of reforms, but we have no further plans to change the private health insurance rebate."