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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19780


Mr ADAMS (10:09 AM) —The Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2003 contains amendments relating to two areas of the health portfolio. I will speak first on the amendments to the health and other services compensation scheme relating to ascertaining an amount of compensation. Under the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995, or the HOS(C) Act as it is known, and the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Care Charges Act 1995—the Charges Act—the Commonwealth is able to recover an amount equivalent to the Medicare and nursing home or residential care benefits that have been provided in relation to a compensable injury. The administrative program underlying these acts is the Compensation Recoveries Program—the program—managed by the Health Insurance Commission, the HIC.

The purpose of schedule 1 of this bill is to clarify the circumstances in the HOS(C) Act under which Medicare and residential care benefits paid to compensation claimants can be recovered. That clarifies many things for people. The Federal Court recently ruled that, because the exact amount of compensation payable was not fixed or ascertainable at the time of the judgment or settlement, the HOS(C) Act did not apply. The proposed amendments will ensure that the Commonwealth can identify and recover the debt owed to it by successful claimants under those circumstances.

The principal amendments are to the HOS(C) Act. The bill also makes consequential amendments to the Charges Act. The amendments are based on the premise that the HOS(C) Act will apply to judgments or settlements in compensation cases regardless of whether the amount of money is fixed at the time of the judgment or settlement or ascertainable at a later date. The idea is to extend the time frame to exclude circumstances where subsections (7) and (8) and section 37 do not apply if the amount of compensation was fixed or ascertainable at a period after judgment or settlement and during the time of a bulk payment agreement being entered into. It also allows an extension to the period from the judgment or settlement to include a period where the amount of compensation is fixed or ascertainable to not affect the viability of the payment of money.

Further, it extends the capacity of paragraph 10(1)(a) to ascertain an amount of compensation at a later period to the judgment or settlement decision in relation to the recovery of past payments of nursing home benefits or residential care subsidies, and it extends the time frame in paragraph 10(6)(c) for the judgment or settlement to include the period when an amount of compensation is fixed or ascertainable to not apply to claimants who have entered into a bulk payment agreement. When an amount of compensation is fixed or ascertainable, the period is extended to not apply to claimants who have entered into a bulk payment agreement and, therefore, not affect the validity of a payment for money pursuant to a notice under section 24. This application applies to the recovery of past payments of nursing home benefits or residential care subsidies. Then the time period for the judgment or settlement will include the period when an amount of compensation is fixed or ascertainable in relation to the period of time being extended where the managing director had not given a notice in respect of the claim for compensation, during the six months preceding the judgment or settlement.

I believe this bill helps to clear up a problem that many have had to deal with when claiming compensation and I support the direction of the amendment. The previous speaker from this side of the House, the member for Shortland, mentioned there are several areas where the general public gets caught when compensation is paid—Centrelink is one. It has a lot to do with the harshness of the Howard government's policies in making it harder for ordinary Australians to live by changing regulations and making compensation stretch out longer before people can obtain any sort of benefit. People should be aware of the facts and they should be aware of what circumstances they are in. Lawyers have a big role to play here as well. Anything that clarifies these matters is in the public interest. I support the concept of this amendment.

I go to amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 relating to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. This bill makes changes to the legislative provisions covering the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. The main change relates to an expansion of the register to cover previous foreign immunisation encounters of children where these are notified to the Health Insurance Commission by Australian registered immunisation providers or prescribed bodies. This change means that the register will contain a complete immunisation record for more children.

The bill also updates two of the definitions underpinning the scheme: those relating to the Australian procedures handbook and to vaccine preventable disease. There will be a renewal of the definition of `immunisation' referring to vaccines administered outside Australia—this is probably needed because of new vaccines and science moving on. This is necessary to support the expansion of part IVA provisions to cover foreign immunisation encounters, as the vaccines administered overseas will not be covered by the other limbs of the definition of `immunisation' since they will not be vaccines that are either registered or approved under, or exempt goods within the meaning of, the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. The new definition of the term will apply to both Australian and foreign immunisation encounters.

The meaning of `information' is now expanded in the new definitions of `information relating to a child's Australian immunisation encounter' and `information relating to a child's foreign immunisation encounter'. Such information can include an interpretation of information relating to the foreign immunisation encounter, where such interpretation is provided by the Australian based recognised immunisation provider or prescribed body who is notifying details of the foreign immunisation encounter to the Health Insurance Commission. For example, it might relate to the equivalence of the overseas administered vaccine to a vaccine ordinarily administered in Australia as a registered, approved or exempt vaccine under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

Item 10 of the amendment seeks to repeal the definition of `vaccine preventable disease' and substitute a more generic definition of the term referring to the diseases listed as `vaccine preventable diseases' in the Australian immunisation handbook. The previous provision listed the relevant diseases within the section 46A definition itself—for example, diphtheria, measles, mumps. The new provision will more readily accommodate changes from time to time in the Australian schedule of childhood immunisations. The rest refers to both Australian immunisation encounters and foreign immunisation encounters where these are notified to the Health Insurance Commission by recognised immunisation providers or prescribed bodies, and this is tidied up.

Section 46B sets out the functions of the Health Insurance Commission in relation to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register, and paragraph 46B(b) relates to the recording of immunisation encounters on that register. The last part refers to a change which clarifies that payments covering notifiers' administrative costs are only to be made in respect of the notification of Australian immunisation encounters—not in respect of the notification of previous foreign immunisation encounters. Most notifications of foreign immunisation encounters are anticipated to be made in conjunction with the notification of an Australian immunisation encounter where the Australian immunisation provider has taken a history of past immunisations administered by others. I believe these are very rational and useful changes, and therefore I support the bill.