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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2279


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(8.11) —Senator Walters asked during the Estimates Committee hearing whether a legal opinion had been obtained on the validity of holding doctors' receipts against the patient's wishes. I thought she would have received an answer, but as it appears she has not I will provide the answer now: The policy of not returning doctors' receipts as a matter of course was adopted by the Health Insurance Commission in the light of the health insurance industry's experience with fraudulent practices prior to the introduction of Medicare. These documents provide the only reliable evidence to support the payment of benefits and their automatic return would limit the Commission's ability to complete effective audit of these payments.

This policy is consistent with the views of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts on medical fraud and overservicing. It also seeks to avoid criticisms such as those made by the Auditor-General in his report of May 1983 on the unacceptability of fund records as support for the payment of Commonwealth medical benefits.

The Commission is prepared to issue a statement of benefit for cash claims, but only on request. Also, a person will be able to obtain an annual statement on request, of benefits paid. These facilities will assist claimants in the preparation of their taxation returns. This is the most common reason advanced by persons seeking return of the accounts and receipts. However, the Commission recognises that some people will need their documents for other reasons. In these cases provision has been made for the accounts to be returned after the claim has been processed for payment by cheque. Legal advice available to the Commission indicates that, subject to this provision, there is no legal impediment to the Commission's retaining account documents.