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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6225


Senator CROSSIN (2:33 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister for Health and Ageing. Does the minister recall telling the Senate on 28 August this year that in relation to the release of the Medicare bulk-billing figures:

... the Health Insurance Commission release the data six weeks after the end of the quarter ...

Now that it is six weeks and two days since the end of the September quarter, why have those figures not been released? Does the minister's advice to the Senate about the automatic release of the bulk-billing figures still stand or is she shifting the goalposts once again to delay the release of the figures in order to deny the parliament the opportunity to debate them this week?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the honourable senator for her question. I do not know how many times I will have to say that, but I suppose it will be every quarter and every time that the bulk-billing figures are due to come out. The figures are released by the Health Insurance Commission. They release them six weeks after the end of the quarter. I do not know whether it is to the day or not; I do not have any say in when they are released. I usually get them the night before as a note—to be noted; not to do anything with them. After the end of the financial year, because there is more data involved, they release them eight weeks after the end of the quarter. I have said it, and I will say it again, and I guess I will say it again the next quarter and the quarter after that: the HIC release the figures. They determine when they will be released and they release them. I do not know that it is to the day, but they release them six weeks after the end of the quarter on which they are reporting—I will keep saying it because I do not think I can make it clearer—and they release them eight weeks after the end of the quarter which ends in the financial year. I believe that they are going to be released on Friday, but I do not have a say in when they are released. The HIC makes the decision as to when they will be released.

As I said, I will be briefed shortly before the statistics are released in the sense of a note coming over. I will not be commenting on them until they appear, because I do not see the statistics until they send the note over. I want to note that, as minister, I have been cooperative, when I could, in relation to Medicare statistics. I have had an endless stream of questions on notice from honourable members and senators about them. I have been asked for electorate based statistics; I have been asked for statistics in other forms. I have actually been asked for the statistics based on postcode. Because sometimes there are very few people living in a postcode area, statistics based on postcode would breach privacy. I will continue to take the approach to be as open as I can with the data I have. Let me say again to all honourable senators on the other side of the chamber: the HIC release the data, not me, and I believe it is to be released on Friday. As I said, I will most probably be advised in a note late tomorrow, I guess—I do not actually ask them when I am going to get it. We were asked this question last time and I said it was eight weeks after—this time it is six weeks after, next time it will be six weeks after, the time after that it will be six weeks after and the time after that it will be eight weeks after.


Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer. Now that the six weeks has passed since the end of the September quarter, has the minister in fact seen the note regarding this quarter or will the minister ask the HIC to release the September quarter bulk-billing figures today in accordance with the timetable she has outlined to the Senate?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I would ask the senator to get her act together and actually ask a question that relates to the answer and not to ask the question that she has there as her supplementary question. She should be capable of actually asking a question based on my answer. I will say it again—the HIC determines the date when they will be released. It is about six weeks after the quarter and eight weeks after the quarter. I have not seen the note. I do not think it has arrived in my office today—I have been down in the chamber all day—but it usually arrives late on the day before they are released. I presume that that will be the case. All I do is note it. It is a minute for noting—not for any action, but just to inform me about the statistics. The answer is that I have not seen the note. The answer is that I believe the HIC is releasing them on Friday. The answer is that the HIC determines when they will be released and it will be about six weeks—I do not know if it is exactly six weeks—after the quarter and eight weeks after the end of the quarter at the end of the financial year. (Time expired)