Objective: To document representations of the 1998 introduction of a 30% rebate on private health insurance in the three most-read daily Sydney newspapers. Methods: Thematic frame analysis of 131 newspaper articles. Results: The rebate was opposed through two frames: that it was ineffective and unfair, and that it was politically motivated. Four supportive frames were more complex: the rebate was justified by claims that public health care was collapsing, that responsible citizens should pay for their own health care, and that individuals would benefit financially. There was also a focus on the political battle in the Senate. The newspaper with the readership least likely to benefit from the rebate supported it most strongly. Conclusions: Framing was strongly episodic (two dimensional, decontextualised and case-study based), limiting political accountability, and the anti-rebate case was presented less memorably. Community action around the issue was not encouraged, individual responsibility was emphasised and universal health care was not promoted as fair or necessary. Different readerships received different messages about the rebate. Implications: There is an urgent need to promote the value of the public health care system and make the future of Medicare compelling for news editors and the public.