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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 31021

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Ageing) (6:49 PM) —The member for Bruce reeled off a series of scenarios, and I have to confess that my shorthand is not as good as it used to be. In fact, my shorthand has never been good. So I did not quite keep up with all of them. He did offer me the opportunity to take these questions on notice, as it were, and I am sure there is somebody on the government side who would be only too happy to sit down with the member for Bruce for as long as it takes to answer his questions.

In relation to a couple of the issues, particularly the first question in relation to the communication that the member for Bruce received, where the people were overhearing a conversation between a doctor and a patient—something about a $10,000 cash payment—this is an in-hospital issue. The Strengthening Medicare safety net is not directed to in-hospital issues, so it is not a safety net issue. That is obviously why the government supports private health insurance and the rebate for private health insurance. Also, I do point out that, although the government is responsible for setting fees for Medicare benefit purposes and for the payment of Medicare benefits, we do not have any direct power or authority to determine the fees charged by doctors or their billing practices. Nor can we compel them to observe the MBS fee for a particular service. As the member for Bruce well knows, medical practitioners are free to set their own value on their services, and the actual fee charged is a matter between the doctor and the patient, although, of course, the government would implore doctors to show compassion when dealing with scenarios such as that referred to by the member for Bruce. Again, this is a very strong argument for supporting rebates for private health insurance.

The second issue I believe related to family tax benefit A. If I understand the member for Bruce correctly, if a person chooses to receive access through the tax system then, yes, the threshold will be the following year. In relation to the third scenario about the 16-year-old, I can confirm that, to be considered part of a family for the purposes of the safety net, a child must be either dependent and under 16 years or a full-time dependent student under 25. If a child turns 16, they would still be considered part of the family for safety net purposes provided they were a full-time dependent student. However, if the child is no longer a full-time student or is living independently, they would no longer be considered part of the family for the purposes of the safety net. I must say that I cannot recall the particular circumstances that the member for Bruce referred to, but, as any family approaches the safety net threshold, Medicare will contact them to confirm the registered family has not changed and to substantiate any further gap payments that might have been made. If the family has reached the safety net threshold prior to the child becoming independent, the family, including the independent child, will continue to receive higher benefits for the remainder of that calendar year. In the following calendar year the independent child would be considered as an individual for the purposes of the safety net.

For scenario 4, all I got was that it was about a plastic surgeon, so that is one I will have to come back to you about. On scenario 5, in relation to the keeping of receipts, I confirm that receipts should be kept. Was there another? I recall the five and, on that basis, I will hand back to the opposition.