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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6556

Senator Mark Bishop asked the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 13 September 2002:

With reference to the answer to question on notice no. 459 (Senate Hansard, 29 August 2002, p.3787):

(1) What provision was made in the department's forward estimates for increases to the Commonwealth Medical Benefits Schedule.

(2) What contingency plans have been put in place in the event that doctors cease to be bound by their agreement and refuse to accept the Gold Card.

(3) Can the Minister confirm that an inter-departmental committee chaired by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has been established to progress the Government's consideration of the matter; if so: (a) what is the membership of that committee; and (b) when will it report.

(4) Has consideration been given to an extension of the agreement with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) pending settlement of this issue.

(5) Is the Minister aware of the results of a survey conducted by the AMA that, of 1 409 doctors surveyed, 41 per cent have responded that they will no longer accept the Gold Card if fees are not increased.

(6) (a) How many veterans and widows have contacted the department, by telephone or in writing, in the past 3 months on this matter; and (b) of those, how many have been seeking assistance with finding another doctor.

(7) In the event that alternative doctors are found, will travel costs be reimbursed.

(8) How many: (a) local medical officers (LMOs); and (b) hospitals, do not accept the Gold Card for treatment outside normal surgery hours.

(9) In the event that veterans are treated by after-hours clinics that do not accept the Gold Card, is reimbursement made of the full fee charged.

(10) In the event that prescriptions are issued by LMOs or others, what provision exists for reimbursement where the script is for a non-approved drug.

Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Veterans' Affairs has provided the following answers to the honourable senator's questions:

(1) No provision is made in the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) forward estimates for increases to the Commonwealth Medicare Benefits Schedule, other than for projected indexation movements.

(2) In circumstances where a doctor refuses to accept the Gold Card the State Offices of DVA will assist veterans to locate a doctor who will accept the Card.

(3) (a) and (b) The Government fully recognises the importance of this issue in the care of veterans and is seeking advice at the highest level of officials. The level of remuneration for specialists treating members of the veteran community cannot be separated from the broader issues currently impacting upon the medical community generally, in particular medical indemnity insurance issues. The Government is fully aware of the concerns of medical specialists and these matters are under careful consideration by the Government.

(4) The current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between DVA and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for services provided by Local Medical Officers (LMOs) expires in December 2002. DVA offered the AMA an extension of the MOU until 30 June 2003 but that has not been accepted. DVA has now offered currently registered LMOs the opportunity to extend their current contracts, including all current terms and conditions to 30 June 2003. There are no contractual arrangements for specialists.

(5) Yes.

(6) (a) Telephone calls to DVA from veterans and widows involved inquiries on many matters. The DVA does not keep records on the number of telephone calls received on this particular matter. DVA received 26 letters from veterans and widows on this matter during the months of June, July and August 2002.

(b) This information is not recorded routinely and veterans will often be referred by the Local Medical Officer to another specialist without DVA being notified. However, since June 2002, DVA has 15 recorded cases where veterans have required specific assistance from DVA with finding another doctor.

(7) Under the Repatriation Transport Scheme, if a veteran is required to travel in order to see the nearest suitable provider who accepts the Gold Card, they are entitled to seek travel assistance from DVA to offset these costs. If a veteran attends a practitioner who is not the nearest suitable provider who accepts the Gold Card, DVA can only provide assistance with transport costs to a maximum of 100 kilometres from the veteran's home.

(8) (a) DVA is aware of 3 entitled persons being billed for Local Medical Officer services outside normal surgery hours.

(b) DVA is not aware of any DVA contracted hospital Accident and Emergency department that does not accept the Gold Card.

(9) In the event that a veteran has treatment for an emergency situation (as defined in the Treatment Principles, prepared under Section 90 of the Veterans' Entitlement Act 1986), at an after-hours clinic, full reimbursement can be made.

(10) If the prescription is for a non-approved item, and prior approval was not sought or given to the prescribing Local Medical Officer, no reimbursement is made.