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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3025

Senator ZAKHAROV —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware that the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association of Victoria has distributed a leaflet relating to health insurance for long term patients, warning that health insurance funds do not cover patients after 35 days? Can the Minister inform the Senate about insurance arrangements applying to people who require longer than 35 days hospital care?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I have seen a copy of the pamphlet put out by the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association of Victoria whose address is Industry House, 370 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. All one can say about this document is that it is misleading, contains lies and is typical of the scurrilous misrepresentation by this organisation which will do anything and stoop to any depths to denigrate the health insurance scheme.

Senator Peter Baume —Which cannot answer back under privilege. That is the difference.

Senator GRIMES —For Senator Baume's edification, the front page of the leaflet reads:

The sorry story of Medicare and the acutely ill long term patient.

Yet, in fact, the document has nothing to do with Medicare and has nothing to do with Medicare patients. It is certainly true that most private health insurance funds in Victoria do not pay supplementary benefits for acute care patients after 35 days. But this does not concern those people with basic private health insurance. People with basic private health insurance can be covered for acute care for 365 days of the year. If a doctor decides after an initial 35 days of acute care in a private hospital that a patient still needs acute care he can fill out a 3B certificate, as it is called, and the hospital will continue to be funded at the acute care rate. In fact, the doctor can continue to fill out 3B forms for patients regarded as needing acute care for as long as they need it- 365 days a year for the rest of their lives if necessary-and the basic rate will continue to be paid.

What the leaflet refers to concerns only the small percentage of people with intermediate and top table cover. The Hospital Benefits Association Ltd has, on its latest figures, 36 per cent of the Victorian private insurance market. The Australian Natives Association has 15 per cent. But they both provide only intermediate and top table acute cover care for 35 days a year. Medibank Private , which has 32 per cent of the Victorian market, provides care cover for 75 days a year. So one may well ask people with private insurance at this level which company they should be with.

I would like to point out, however, that although the 35 day limit is common in Victoria, many health funds throughout Australia pay acute care cover for at least 60 days a year and they are not suffering financially. The Government and the Minister, Dr Blewett, have been highly critical of the actions of these funds which are causing unnecessary worry and considerable financial hardship for patients. That the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association of Victoria should join in defending these funds by putting out a document which is lying, which contains misrepresentations and which pushes the case of these private health insurance companies which are letting their clients down by not providing the benefits of other companies I think is disgraceful.

Because of the concern about this document, Mr Jones, who was the Acting Minister for Health when Dr Blewett was away, wrote to the Voluntary Health Insurance Association of Australia-the association directly representing the private funds-in April urging the funds to amend their rules to increase acute care cover to at least 60 days. He stressed that, if the funds were not prepared to do anything about this, the Government was prepared to do what was necessary to protect the patients and the public. Since then Dr Blewett has met with the head of HBA and has again urged the company to change the rule. The problem in Victoria involves funds such as the HBA and the ANA, not Medicare. The problem has nothing to do with Medicare. The Private Hospitals Association in Victoria knows this. It knew this when it put out this document. It is a misleading and lying political document aimed at denigrating the national health insurance scheme which has, in fact, nothing to do with the problem it is talking about.