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Govt eyes off $6 billion windfall from Medibank sale

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The Federal Government will reap $5.7 billion from the float of Medibank Private following strong interest among institutional investors.

As the insurer pushes ahead with its controversial foray into the provision of primary health care, it has been revealed that retail investors were allocated shares at $2 each – the top of the indicative range in the offer document – and a 15 cent discount on the price paid by institutional investors.

The result is a welcome boost to the Commonwealth’s coffers, which have been savaged by plunging iron ore and coal prices and a stalemate in Parliament over a range of unpopular Budget measures, including the $7 Medicare co-payment.

Shares in the insurer began trading today, soon after it began a six-month trial of a program to manage the health of policyholders with chronic health problems.

The trial involves 300 Medibank members with five medical conditions at six Queensland GP clinics who will be given a personalised self-management support plan, health coaching from a nurse, and interactive tools so that they can monitor their condition.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler has been critical of other forays by Medibank into the provision of health care, particularly a scheme at several Queensland GP clinics where it covers administrative costs in return for guarantees that its members will receive an appointment within 24 hours, as well as after-hours services.

A/Professor Owler told a conference of health fund executives earlier this month that such an arrangement was unacceptable because it undermined the principle of universal and equitable access to care by privileging health fund members over other patients.

The AMA President said the medical profession was ready to work with health funds on ways to improve patient care, but only in ways consistent with universal and equitable access, and which respected the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.

Many institutional investors are enthusiastic about the Medibank float because health stocks generally are considered a defensive investment, and the potential for growth given the ageing of the population and consequent increase in demand for health services.

But several key risks have also been raised, including the implementation of a major IT upgrade at the insurer, its ability to further reduce administrative overheads, and the fact that private health insurance premiums are heavily regulated.

Adrian Rollins