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Thursday, 1 April 2004
Page: 27913


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 regarding podiatric surgeons and hospital casemix protocol data provision arrangements. It also amends the National Health Act 1953 regarding deceased pharmacists and makes minor technical amendments to two other pieces of legislation within the health portfolio.

Amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 will enable private health insurance funds to pay accommodation and nursing costs from their hospital tables associated with foot surgery performed on admitted patients by accredited podiatric surgeons.

The aim of this amendment is to enhance the value of private health insurance and increase choice for consumers. Currently private patients can only receive rebates for foot surgery from health funds' hospital tables performed by medical practitioners. Only limited benefits are available from funds' ancillary tables for surgery performed by podiatric surgeons and members can incur considerable out-of-pocket costs.

While this bill enables funds to pay for hospital costs, it does not extend to enabling funds to pay benefits for the accredited podiatric surgeon's or associated anaesthetist's fees. There is no Medicare benefits schedule item for these fees and this bill will not change this situation.

The amendment will not change clinical practice in any way. It will permit funds to pay benefits for accommodation and nursing costs associated with foot surgery performed on admitted patients by accredited podiatric surgeons. This will alleviate some of the cost burden for privately insured consumers.

The bill also clarifies existing hospital casemix protocol data provision arrangements under the Health Insurance Act 1973.

Currently the Health Insurance Act 1973 requires private hospitals to supply patient de-identified data to a data bureau. The data bureau was disbanded in 2002 and the data is now collected and analysed from within the Department of Health and Ageing. The amendment reflects this change in arrangements.

While private hospitals have been required to provide hospital casemix protocol data to the Department of Health and Ageing and private health insurance funds under the Health Insurance Act 1973, an equivalent obligation has never been imposed on day hospital facilities. This creates a potential gap in the range of data that is supplied to health funds and the Department of Health and Ageing. An amendment to the National Health Act 1953 will correct this anomaly.

This bill also amends the National Health Act 1953 to ensure that the community will continue to have access to pharmaceutical benefits in the event of the death of a pharmacist who had been approved under this act to supply pharmaceutical benefits.

Currently, under the National Health Act 1953, pharmaceutical benefits can only be supplied by a pharmacist approved to supply such benefits. Once approved, a pharmacist is entitled to be paid by the Commonwealth for the supply of pharmaceutical benefits.

The National Health Act 1953 currently provides for legal personal representatives of deceased approved pharmacists to apply for approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits. However, this provision has been found to be deficient in a number of respects. In some cases, the time period involved in obtaining an approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits is lengthy. This is particularly so in situations where it is only viable for a legal personal representative to apply for approval after probate or letters of administration are granted.

In some instances, the legal personal representative requests an act of grace payment be made to the estate of the deceased approved pharmacist. This payment is for pharmaceutical benefits supplied during the period following the death of the pharmacist and before the grant of a new approval. In some cases the amount claimed is large, and the ongoing viability of a pharmacy has been jeopardised by having to carry this financial burden.

The amendments will enable a person who is, or is likely to become, an executor or administrator of a deceased approved pharmacist's estate to be granted permission to supply pharmaceutical benefits to the community, and to receive payment for that supply.

Finally, the bill makes minor amendments to the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995 and the Health Insurance Amendment (Diagnostic Imaging, Radiation Oncology and Other Measures) Act 2003 to correct drafting errors. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Ms Gillard) adjourned.