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Wednesday, 14 May 2003
Page: 14333


Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill delivers on the government's strong commitment to the principle of universality under Medicare. As promised by the Prime Minister, a maximum contribution to public hospital funding over the 2003-08 period of $42 billion will be provided under this bill. This is $10 billion more than the funding provided under the last Australian health care agreements. Nationally, this represents a 17 per cent real increase in the Commonwealth's commitment.

We are introducing this bill to provide certainty for the people of Australia, who can rest assured that Commonwealth funding for their public hospital services will continue and that they will have free access to the services they require.

The Australian people deserve an accountable health system. Over the life of the current agreements, the Commonwealth's commitment to Australians needing health care has been transparent and unprecedented. The states' contribution is far less apparent.

Until now the Commonwealth's contribution to public hospital funding has been growing faster than the states'. According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, the Commonwealth currently provides 48 per cent of public hospital funding compared with the states' 43 per cent. Under the new agreements states will be required to match the Commonwealth's rate of growth in funding, so the onus on growth is shared. States will also be required to recommit to the Medicare principles enshrined in this bill, and agree to a new performance reporting framework providing greater transparency of the shared arrangements.

Over the past five years, the Commonwealth has also introduced major private health insurance reforms, including the 30 per cent rebate and Lifetime Health Cover, that have contributed towards a better balance between the public and private hospital systems. This has reduced pressure on public hospitals. Nonetheless the federal government demonstrated our commitment to public hospitals by choosing not to reduce state and territory funding under the last agreements, as we were entitled to do, because of the increase in the number of people with private health insurance.

This decision by the federal government meant that state and territory governments are around $2.5 billion better off over the last three years of those agreements. It also means that the new Australian health care agreements start from a much higher base than they otherwise would have been had we exercised our right to recover those funds.

Included in the Commonwealth contribution to public hospital services is a new Pathways Home program. This is a one-off contribution of $253 million nationally to increase efforts in the provision of rehabilitation and step-down services. This program will help people, particularly older people, to make a smooth transition back to their homes in the community following hospital treatment and in doing so optimise their potential to remain independent.

This bill also provides for minor legislative changes to enable the Minister for Health and Ageing to delegate powers with respect to certain limited matters to the Department of Health and Ageing and alters the definition of `eligible person' to reflect the current definition of the Health Insurance Act 1975. The delegation powers do not extend to grants to the states and territories for provision of public hospital services, but are limited to grants for related projects and programs and are estimated to be 0.9 per cent of total payments under the act.

Once again I confirm the government's strong commitment to the principle of universality under Medicare. This bill extends the period of operation of the act for a second five-year period commencing on 1 July 2003. This will enable the Commonwealth to enter into new Australian health care agreements and maintain funding to the states and territories pending settlement of agreements. I hope that state and territory governments act in the best interest of patients and agree to do as to the Commonwealth has always done—commit to the Medicare principles; tell the public how much money they are prepared to provide public hospitals; and match the federal government's rate of funding growth. It is only fair that they do so.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Snowdon) adjourned.