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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 762
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Senator Grimes —On 27 March 1984 (Hansard, page 691) Senator Hearn asked me, in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning long stay patients at Launceston General Hospital:

The Minister for Health has provided the following information in respect of charges for which such patients may be liable.

The Commonwealth/State Medicare agreements provide that after 35 days continuous hospitalisation a patient will be automatically reclassified as a ' nursing home type patient' (NHTP) unless a medical practitioner certifies that the patient continues to require acute care. Nursing home type patients are required to make a personal (uninsurable) contribution towards the cost of accommodation in exactly the same manner as a person who is being provided with similar care and treatment in a nursing home.

This contribution, known as the patient contribution, is payable at a level equivalent to 87.5 per cent of the sum of standard age pension and supplementary assistance payable under the Social Services Act.

The NHTP arrangements apply at all recognised (that is, public) hospitals and private hospitals throughout Australia including, of course, the Launceston General Hospital. In Tasmania a form of NHTP arrangements has been in force for some time.

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Senator Button —On 4 April 1984 (Hansard, page 1192) Senator Kilgariff asked me, as Minister representing the Prime Minister, a question without notice concerning the integration of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands with Australia and the future status of Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

The Prime Minister has provided me with the following reply to the honourable senator's question:

(a) There has been no decision by the Government to include the Cocos (Keeling) Islands or Christmas Island within the Northern Territory, nor has the Government given consideration to any such proposals. In relation to the Government's decision to include these islands within the Federal electorate of the Northern Territory for Federal election and referendum purposes, I refer the honourable senator to the answer given on 4 September 1984 to House of Representatives Question on Notice No. 1354 (House of Representatives Hansard, page 533).

(b) The Government considers that it is in the national interest for the Ashmore and Cartier Islands to retain their status as a separate Commonwealth Territory under Commonwealth control. The question of appropriate administrative arrangements within these parameters is currently under review, and I have assured the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory that his Government's views in this regard would be taken fully into account.

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Senator Grimes —On 7 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2758) Senator Kilgariff asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the charging of nursing home fees during periods of temporary absence of patients.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

The National Health Act provides for the payment of Commonwealth nursing home benefits in respect of each day on which a qualified patient is accommodated in an approved nursing home.

Where a patient is absent from a nursing home for a period of 24 hours or more, and has requested retention of the bed, the proprietor may charge a bed retention fee, up to the full approved fee, for that bed. Under the National Health Act, the payment of the Commonwealth daily nursing home benefit can be made only in respect of a patient who is actually occupying a bed in an approved home.

Although this may involve the patient in additional expense, the bed retention fee was introduced at the request of both patients and proprietors as it removes a source of anxiety about permanency of occupation. Before the introduction of bed retention fees some patients were reluctant to leave the nursing home for short periods for fear of losing their accommodation.

However, proprietors are encouraged to utilise temporarily vacant nursing home beds by the admission of short term patients. Where a bed is occupied in this way, bed retention fees are not payable. This results in a more efficient use of beds and relieves the financial burden on the absent patients.

To assist patients to meet the cost of necessary or beneficial short-term absences arrangements apply whereby a patient can be absent from a nursing home for one night a month without loss of benefits, provided that the patient requests retention of the bed and the patient's doctor approves of the absence. The arrangements are dependent upon the patient receiving some nursing home care on both the day of departure and the day of return.

Nevertheless, it is appreciated that these arrangements have some shortcomings, as does the overall system of funding nursing homes. In the context of its aged care policy, the Government intends to introduce a system of program grants to nursing homes which will alleviate some of the existing problems. Patient absences is one factor which will be taken into account in the development of these arrangements.

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