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Aussies promised simpler health insurance

 

Australians with private health insurance are being promised simpler policies, more affordable premiums and easier access to mental healthcare from next year.

But critics say the federal government's shake-up of the system will mean little difference for families and older Australians.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday announced several new measures aimed at curbing rising costs, with those under 30 set to be the biggest beneficiaries.

They will be offered a two per cent discount on their premiums every year up to a maximum of 10 per cent, which they will keep until they are 40.

"By bringing more young people in, that lowers the average cost of premiums," Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.

The government has also struck an agreement with makers of hip and knee prostheses and cardiac devices to cut the price insurers pay for their products.

That will save them about $1 billion over the next four years and is expected to be the biggest driver of lower premium rises, starting from April 2018.

Premiums have increased an average of 5.6 per cent a year since 2010, but the minister wouldn't put a figure on how much that could fall.

The changes will allow some people to increase their excess in exchange for lower premiums - up to $750 for singles and $1500 for families.

The government will also take alternative therapies like homeopathy and yoga off the list of items covered, while the waiting period for mental health services will be scrapped.

"People will be able to access mental health services earlier through private health insurance," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Seven Network.

Insurers will have to re-categorise policies as either gold, silver, bronze or basic packages and provide a one-page summary.

"It's about information and simplicity; ensuring that all Australians are able to understand the impact of their policies, what they are covered for and what they aren't covered for," Mr Hunt said.

Labor's health spokeswoman Catherine King says young people will only save about 70 cents a week, while older Australians won't receive any returns to their back pocket.

She believes families and older Australians are still going to see their premiums rise in April next year.

"There's very little in this package for them," she told reporters in Melbourne.

"There is absolutely no guarantee in this package there will be a lower private health insurance rise in April next year."

Labor does, however, welcome cuts to the cost of devices on the prostheses list.

The Australian Medical Association said the move is a step in the right direction but won't solve the ongoing issue of affordability.

The peak body is still concerned about the rising cost of healthcare and so-called "junk" policies that only cover entry into public hospitals.

"We need to ensure that consumers are very clear about what they're getting," vice president Tony Bartone told reporters in Melbourne.

"There's a lot of work still to be done. This is an opportunity to try and drive some long-term reform."