by Matt Walsh
CANBERRA, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- A price hike for private health insurance is "absolutely" going to hurt everyday Australians, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Friday, after the nation's health minister approved an increase to health cover premiums of almost 5 percent from April 1.
The 4.84 percent increase comes after a cumulative increase of around 28 percent since 2012, and will result in families paying an additional 200 Australian dollars (150 U.S. dollars) - up to approximately 4,500 Australian dollars annually - for 'top level' cover, while singles will pay an additional 100 Australian dollars per year.
Turnbull said while the latest increase will "absolutely" hurt everyday Australians who choose to stick by their private health insurer, it was up to individuals to decide whether or not they continue to take up private health cover.
"That's a judgement they have to form on their own situation," Turnbull told Macquarie radio on Friday.
"My council would be that people should stay in private health insurance but people have to make their own decisions. But I would certainly encourage people to do so.
"The cost will be on average an extra two dollars per week for singles and four dollars for families."
"This rise (of 4.8 percent) is lower than each and every year under Labor governments but it is nonetheless at a time when household budgets are tight, every additional cost hurts."
"Containing health costs is critically important."
Turnbull said there were "a number of factors" for the increase, including labor wages and the cost of researching, purchasing and implementing new and improved healthcare technology.
"Obviously labor costs are increasing, but so is an increase in technology. We're spending more money on health technology and more money on prosthesis, implants, hip replacements, knees," Turnbull said.
In the government's official statement released on Friday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said this year's rise was inevitable, but the government aim to "get better value" for Australian families next year.
"I realize cost of living pressures are a major concern for Australian families. Although this is the lowest increase in a decade, I am determined that more can be done to get better value for families," Hunt said in a statement.
"As the new Health Minister, I will work with insurers over the next year to find ways insurers can deliver more value for customers without compromising on the quality of cover."
The opposition criticized Hunt's approval of the price rise. Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said it was hard to justify a price hike when, last year, the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman received more than 4,400 complaints - a 30 percent increase on the previous year.
"Australians are paying more than ever for their private health insurance but they are getting less and less, and the Liberals have done absolutely nothing to help families with the costs of health," King said.
"This increase comes on top of some of the highest premium increases on record, spiraling complaints against private health insurers and Australians increasingly discovering they are simply not covered for basic inclusions in their policies."
"The new health minister is joking if he thinks this is good news."