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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6229


Senator MARSHALL (2:55 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. Given the increasing evidence that medical specialists are refusing to accept the gold card as payment for treatment of veterans, what measures are being taken to reissue veterans with a Medicare card to ensure that they receive the care they require at public hospitals and from GPs?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —With all due respect, Senator Hill represents the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in this chamber; but obviously you have asked me the question because it relates to health.



Senator PATTERSON —As Senator Hill says, his advice is that doctors continue to do the right thing. This question has been asked before and I will give the same answer I gave before. The government is aware that some doctors are concerned about the level of fees for services to the veteran community. I understand the Department of Veterans' Affairs is discussing the matter with the Australian Medical Association. I am advised that the overwhelming majority of specialists continue to accept the repatriation gold card for veteran patients and provide the service at no cost to the patient.


Senator Hill —It is a credit to them.


Senator PATTERSON —As Senator Hill says, it is a credit to them. I am advised that, where a veteran is having difficulty locating a treatment specialist, the Department of Veterans' Affairs can assist in locating an alternative practitioner who will accept the gold card. With respect to general practitioners, the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Australian Medical Association is due to expire in December. Over 12,000 general practitioners participate in this scheme and continue to provide services to veterans and war widows. Under the memorandum, participating local medical officers receive a higher rebate, equal to 100 per cent of the Medicare benefit schedule fee, for treating veterans. The rebate paid to general practitioners who are not party to this arrangement is equal to 85 per cent of the Medicare schedule fee plus 60c. I have been advised, and I think I have advised the chamber before on this issue, that any veteran who is unable to gain treatment because of a refusal to accept the gold card should contact the nearest state office of the Department of Veterans' Affairs to gain assistance in finding an alternative general practitioner. I understand that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs is keen to extend the current arrangements with general practitioners under the memorandum of understanding with the AMA for a short period to explore options to address their concerns about the scheme.


Senator MARSHALL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In the event that veterans proceed to take out private health cover in lieu of the dishonoured gold card, will the government compensate them for the penalties entailed for the loss of no-claim benefits?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —That is a hypothetical question and really should be ruled out of order.


Senator Faulkner —It's a very good question.


Senator PATTERSON —Let me go back and say that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs is engaged in discussions with the AMA—


Senator Faulkner —Lots of veterans are very worried about that issue.


Senator PATTERSON —If Senator Faulkner wants to answer the question, he can get up and have a go and take note—or however he would like to do it—but I am trying to actually give the honourable senator a reasonable answer to his question. As I said, the minister is in negotiations with the AMA. I have also tried extending the memorandum with general practitioners to ensure that the veterans are covered. In a case where a veteran is unable to receive treatment, I am advised that the Department of Veterans' Affairs will arrange for the veteran to get to a doctor who does honour their gold card.