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Thursday, 21 March 2002
Page: 1205

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (9:47 AM) —I table the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill amends the National Health Act 1953 (the Act) to remove unintended differences between the provisions relating to contractual gap cover arrangements introduced in 1995 and gap cover schemes which were introduced in August 2000.

The bill will align, where appropriate, requirements relating to gap cover schemes with those applicable to contractual methods of addressing the gap and consolidate and clarify the obligations of registered health funds to provide information to the public and the Department.

The first change will provide that the automatic assignment of a contributor's Medicare benefit to a health fund under an approved gap cover scheme will not be liable to any duty or charge under State or Territory law, or any law of the Commonwealth that applies only to a territory.

The second change requires that a health fund, at the request of a contributor, provide information to a medical practitioner which will enable or assist the medical practitioner to comply with the requirement to provide written information to the patient on the expected costs of treatment covered by a gap cover scheme.

Thirdly, health funds will be required to comply with any request by the HIC for access to documents that relate to payment of Medicare benefits to the fund under a gap cover scheme.

Another change involves transferring two of the conditions imposed on health funds by the Minister for Health and Ageing under subsection 73B(1) of the Act from Schedule A to Schedule 1, in order to rationalise the structure of the Act.

The amendment will also extend the parties who are able to access fund lists of contracted hospitals, day hospitals and doctors under paragraph (ha) of Schedule 1 of the Act, by allowing the Department and members of the public to access the lists on request.

The bill also allows the Department to access copies of registered organisations' Hospital Purchaser Provider Agreements (HPPAs), Medical Purchaser Provider Agreements and Practitioner Agreements attached to its HPPAs.

The bill also amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 to transfer responsibility for registration of billing agents from the Private Health Insurance Administrative Council (PHIAC) to the Health Insurance Commission (HIC). Following discussion between the two bodies and the Department it has been agreed to transfer all responsibilities for approving and monitoring billing agents from PHIAC to the HIC. This will remove one layer of regulation for billing agents; improve efficiency and eradicate the risk of error in data transfer between the PHIAC and the HIC.

The bill will make some minor amendments related to private health insurance arrangements. Currently, health funds may only offer discounts to contributors who pay at least six months in advance. This will be amended to allow discounts to be offered from a starting point of three months in advance. It will also remove an anachronism which currently prevents employers contributing directly towards health expenses incurred by employees who have an agreement under Part V1B of the Industrial Relations Act 1988. This will be beneficial to contributors and to private health insurance generally.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.