Aggrieved members of Medibank Private have opened a new battlefront in their campaign against the Abbott government’s public float of the health insurer.
At least 60 members have lodged complaints with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission demanding the regulator investigate statements made to them by federal governments before 1998 that they were the owners of the health fund’s assets.
The irate members have also asked the consumer regulator to examine representations made by directors of the fund in annual reports between 1976 and 2009 that Medibank Private’s reserves could only be used to benefit contributors.
David Gronow, the organiser of a petition that calls on the government to recognise the ownership rights of Medibank members, said the complaints were lodged with the commission in the last week.
“The overwhelming views of members is that they have been misled about their beneficial ownership and indeed their ownership of the fund,” he told The New Daily.
“Therefore, the ACCC under its charter must investigate the allegations of misleading conduct, or potentially deceptive conduct, by the Commonwealth and its statutory bodies.”
Since April, The New Daily has published a series of reports based on financial records and declassified cabinet documents indicating that governments before 1996 believed the fund was owned by members.
In 1981 confidential legal advice given to the Fraser government stated that the Commonwealth had no equity in Medibank Private.
Seven years later, the chairman of the Health Insurance Commission told the Hawke government that members owned the assets.
An ACCC spokesman declined to comment on the grievances raised in the formal complaints lodged by members.
Public support for the ownership claims of members appears to be growing as more former directors of the Medibank Private have raised doubts about whether the Commonwealth is the exclusive owner of the fund.
John Evered, the fund’s managing director in the 1990s, reiterated his views about the ownership question in an interview with The New Daily.
“I have maintained all along that Medibank Private is not this, or any other government’s, to sell,” he said.
“It has grown on the back of contributions from members.
“Medibank Private’s assets, investments and reserves have been built up thanks to members with no cost to government.”
In response to written questions from The New Daily earlier this month, finance minister Mathias Cormann reasserted the Commonwealth’s claim of full ownership.
“All of the shares in Medibank Private are owned by the Commonwealth,” Senator Cormann said.
“Medibank Private’s policyholders purchase private health cover, they don’t purchase a share in Medibank Private.”
Mr Gronow said anger among members had intensified since the prospectus and other documents for the public float of the company were released last week.
More details about the issues raised by Medibank Private members in their letters to the ACCC can be obtained here.