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Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (1:21 AM) .I do not think that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) can derive any comfort from comparing the normal £350 limit on medical expenses provided under this bill with the corresponding provisions in the State acts. As pointed out in the Conspectus of Workers' Compensation Cases in Australia as from 1st January this year, issued by the Department of Works, there is no limit in Victoria and South Australia on the amount of medical expenses that may be paid. In New South Wales there is a normal limit of £625, with provision for excess in several cases. That leaves only Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia with normal limits at 1st January last below the limit provided in this bill. I have not before me the new Tasmanian act, but it may be that the limit in Tasmania is now above this limit. I know, to take one example, that the lumpsum payment available in Tasmania in the event of death is now £4,250, which is higher than provided under any other workers' compensation act in Australia. It is quite likely, therefore, that the normal limit, if a limit is still retained, for medical expenses would be greater than the limit under this bill. The Minister has said how this act is administered, but we must remember that the act itself does not make an end of the matter, because the commissioner issues rulings under it to his 143 delegates. On 19th March last the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) gave me the wording of such a ruling as follows: - . . the commissioner advised his delegates that payment of any increased costs due to the admission or transfer of an employee to an intermediate or private ward -

Honorable members will remember that medical expenses are defined in the act to include treatment and maintenance as a patient at a hospital - should be authorized only if treatment in such a ward is reasonably necessary in relation to the injury or the disease suffered by the employee, that is, where suitable treatment cannot be given in a public ward or where public ward accommodation is not available.

The Treasurer's reply to me arose out of my question concerning the fact that many physicians and surgeons can only secure proper treatment in a hospital for an employee by having him admitted to an intermediate or private ward. The waiting period for a public ward is too great. Accordingly, the commissioner issued a ruling that medical expenses should only normally be paid in respect of hospital expenses where those hospital expenses were incurred in a public ward. If the hospital expenses in a private or intermediate ward were deemed reasonable in the terms of the commissioner's ruling and were in excess of £350 together with other medical expenses, the commissioner should not pay the excess unless exceptional circumstances applied. Treatment in intermediate or private wards cannot be accounted exceptional circumstances. It is a perfectly normal, usual and reasonable circumstance to-day. So we get this position. If the treatment-

Mr McMahon - Can the honorable member give me an example?

Mr WHITLAM - No, I have not one with me now and I do not recollect having come across such a case myself; but I assure the Minister that I asked the Treasurer this question as a result of representations made to me by a Public Service union, which quoted cases but not names or addresses.

The union quoted cases where medical expenses for hospital treatment had been disallowed because the commissioner said it was not reasonable for that treatment to be undertaken in an intermediate or private ward, although the doctors found that the best way to obtain prompt treatment was to admit the patient to a private or intermediate ward rather than wait for a bed in a public ward.

Mr Ward - The Minister said that there are no such cases.

Mr WHITLAM - If there are no such cases the ruling was made in empty air; it was an academic proposition. The Treasurer states that hospital expenses in a private or intermediate ward may be paid if they were reasonably incurred, but the bill now says that such reasonable expenses in a private or intermediate ward cannot be paid except in exceptional circumstances. It is obvious that there are no exceptional circumstances in being admitted to a private or intermediate ward. So if your medical expenses do not exceed £350 and some of them were reasonably incurred for treatment in a private or intermediate ward, they may be paid. If, however, they exceed £350, the excess will not be paid.

Question put -

That the clause proposed to be omitted (Mr. Clyde Cameron's amendment) stand part of the bill.

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