After its victory over the My Health Record legislation, federal Labor shows no sign of letting up on health as a pain point for the government.
The MHR amendments were rubber-stamped on Monday, after a battle in the Senate in which the government was forced to accept demands for stricter safeguards and tougher penalties for privacy breaches.
However, Labor’s health spokesperson Catherine King is maintaining a call for the Privacy Commissioner to conduct a review of the security settings available to patients who choose to keep a My Health Record.
The opposition party says the review is needed to ensure “an appropriate balance between utility for clinicians, patients and others such as carers, and privacy and security for individuals”.
The commissioner should also consider the difficulty of ensuring informed consent in an opt-out model, and changes to the default access settings, Labor says.
Among the added safeguard measures, largely in line with the recommendations of a Labor-proposed Senate inquiry, law enforcement will need to obtain a court order to gain access to a person’s My Health Record.
If someone cancels their record, the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) must delete it entirely, and patients will be able to opt in or opt out of the scheme at any time.
The amendments offer better security for victims of domestic violence and ban employers from asking for or accessing an employee’s health record.
They also include a ban on insurers accessing health information or de-identified health data for research.
As part of the compromise, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt agreed to shift the November 15 opt-out deadline to January 31 to give people more time to make up their minds about the controversial scheme.
As what Labor called “the clean-up legislation” was passed by the lower house on Monday, Ms King renewed an attack on the government over health insurance.
Ms King said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest report showed the government’s reforms were doing little to bring down costs or restore trust in the life insurance industry.
“The government is still patting itself on the back for delivering a 4% premium price rise this year – double the inflation rate,” she said.
If elected in a poll expected to be held next May, Labor would cap growth in premiums at 2% for two years, “shifting the balance back in the favour of consumers rather than company executives”.
She said premiums had increased by 27% since 2014 – costing families an average $1000 more, while the insurers remained highly profitable.
Consumers paid about $23.9 billion in private health insurance premiums in 2017-18, up almost $834 million on the previous year.
But the ACCC report said coverage was continuing to decline and out-of-pocket costs were rising.