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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19779

Ms HALL (10:02 AM) —The Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2003 strengthens existing arrangements. It clarifies the circumstances in the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995, which deals with Medicare and residential care benefits paid to compensation claimants and is currently in line with the Federal Court's decision in the case of Rowell v. Health Insurance Commission 2002. It held that the Commonwealth could not recover payments if the compensation was not fixed or ascertainable at the time of judgment. This puts the Commonwealth in a position where a verdict is given and it is not identified that money should be repaid to the Commonwealth—that is, the money that Medicare has paid to doctors.

That money is not recoverable and it has always been a given that, in compensation cases where costs are incurred by the Commonwealth, the money would be repaid—the cost of doctors and specialists that claimants have attended while using Medicare during the compensation process. It has always been a given that the Health Insurance Commission would retain a certain proportion of their settlement and that at a later date the Commonwealth could recover that money, but this Federal Court decision of Rowell and the Health Insurance Commission last year really put that into doubt. What I think is very important is that most people who have a compensation case understand that that money—the medical and residential care benefit expenses that they incur—must be repaid out of their settlement. This legislation steps in and clarifies that situation and puts the Commonwealth in a position that it really considers it should always have been in.

We do not have any problems with that aspect on this side of the House; however, I must state that there are some issues in relation to compensation and the way the government handles it that I do have some problems with. I know that anything that clarifies the situation for a person who is involved in the compensation process is a positive step. As members of parliament we, on both sides of the House, invariably see people involved in the compensation system who, after they have received their compensation payment, are unaware of the requirements. I do not think there would be a member in this House who has not talked to somebody who has received a compensation payment and paid off their mortgage or bought a new car and then discovered that they owe money to pay for their medical expenses. They may also be unaware that there is a preclusion period that is imposed on them by Centrelink. This often happens because they do not understand the situation. I am not arguing against it; rather I am saying that anything that clarifies the process for anyone who is involved in workers compensation, or any other type of compensation system, is important and a positive step. This is just reinforcing a situation that has existed for a long time—that is, a situation where, if you incur medical expenses, you should have to repay them.

The other aspect of this legislation relates to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. The immunisation register contains details of the immunisation status of children within Australia who are under the age of seven, and it is maintained by the Health Insurance Commission. This legislation will broaden the register to include details of children who have been immunised overseas. This is a very positive step forward which will make the information that is held a lot more complete. The immunisation register is quite important because parents of young children have to show proof of immunisation when they obtain Centrelink payments. This legislation is quite uncontroversial. It clarifies and improves the situation, and it will be of benefit to people who are involved in workers compensation and people who have had their children immunised overseas.