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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1933

Senator MAGUIRE —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I refer to statements made at a recent hearing of the Public Accounts Committee about the existence of kickbacks in the supply of pathology services. Is the Government concerned by the possible existence of kickbacks? What steps are being taken to bring the practice to an end? Does the Minister believe that such practices could contribute to the total cost of medical fraud and overservicing, which are now estimated at $130m annually?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, from time to time Ministers for health and governments have heard allegations of the practice of kickbacks, primarily in relation to the practice of pathology. Section 129 of the Health Insurance Act contains provisions to the effect that any person involved in kickbacks is, upon conviction, liable to very severe penalties-including imprisonment, I think, for up to five years. To the extent that inducements may be offered to a medical practitioner to order pathology tests, kickbacks certainly could lead to overservicing in the form of requests for tests which are not reasonably required. One hears of allegations of such behaviour from time to time. Whenever the Department hears of such allegations, they are investigated to the limit of the information available; but to date there has been no prosecution of any person under that section of the Health Insurance Act.

The Government is concerned that abuses such as kickbacks should be identified and dealt with according to the law. One of the characteristics of the kickback allegations has been the absence of detailed information sufficient to pursue investigations to the point of laying charges. If any honourable senators or any members of the community are able to provide such information and it is capable of being substantiated by investigation, I suggest that they are under an obligation to notify the Department of Health, which will vigorously and completely pursue such matters. However, it is a difficult area. It is an area in which, as in the case of the Public Accounts Committee, various governments have had allegations made, but those allegations have not up until now been substantiated sufficiently to press charges.