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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 655


Mr BRUMBY —Is the Minister for Health aware of reports that the Australian Medical Association is sponsoring a campaign to stop doctors availing themselves of direct billing under the Medicare scheme? What steps will the Minister take to counter assertions made by the AMA that direct billing should not be introduced?


Dr BLEWETT —I am aware that certain ele- ments of the AMA have been planning a campaign against direct billing. I believe that that campaign will bring very little credit upon the medical profession. Of course the AMA has a perfect right to wage such a campaign, but I also point out that I have some considerable doubt as to whether the Association has a right to wage it on tax deductions.

Let me put the facts of this situation to the House. This Government would prefer doctors to direct bill or bulk bill, but it has not the power to compel them to do so and nor does it desire to compel them to do so. If one looks at the Medicare scheme one will see that doctors have three choices in relation to billing. First of all, they can simply charge the patient and the patient can recover the money by taking the bill to the Medicare fund. Secondly, the doctor may give the patient an account which he or she can then take to Medicare and have it paid by way of a cheque made out to the doctor. Or the doctor has the third choice of direct billing the Medicare organisation at 85 per cent of the schedule fee.

The Government's preference for direct billing stems from its determination to reduce and contain health costs in this community. First of all, it obviously saves the patient when direct billing takes place. Secondly, there are also real savings to doctors in that it eliminates the problem of bad debts and reduces administrative costs. Perhaps most importantly of all, there are very real savings to government. If direct billing comes through in great numbers there will be very big administrative savings.

Let me say in conclusion that I am disappointed that at this late stage this rather selfish campaign should be mounted against the Medicare program. Apart from the quite negative and unconstructive attitude of the Opposition, nearly every other group, political party and State government has worked co- operatively with the Federal Government in the development of the Medicare program, and that includes the AMA itself. It would be unfair to include all doctors in this category, but I would hope that before the AMA embarks further on this campaign it would look at and consider the very critical remarks made by other doctors in the Doctors Reform Society about this campaign. I also hope it notes the views of the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations.