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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Dr Donald Cameron (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) .- by leaveI move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to introduce a number of amendments to the National Health Act. The amendments do not affect the basic principles of the act, but are in the nature of machinery amendments to enable certain aspects of the scheme to operate more smoothly.

The first of the matters dealt with in the bill is the definition of "contributor" for medical benefit purposes. The new definition in clause 3 substantially restates the existing definition and adds a further provision to the effect that the eligibility of a person who was a contributor, as previously defined, shall continue unchanged. The effect will be that persons who become contributors after 1stJuly next will be eligible for Commonwealth benefits provided they contribute for fund benefits equal in range and amounts to the benefits in the First Schedule to the National Health Act. All contributors who are at present eligible for Commonwealth benefits will continue to be eligible provided that they continue their present membership of a registered fund.

A further amendment will have the effect of easing a limitation on the payment of hospital benefits from special accounts. At present, special-account hospital benefits are limited to the gross fees charged by the hospital for the accommodation and nursing care of the patient. Hospitals in some cases charge extra amounts by way of theatre fees and charges for drugs, dressings, special nursing and laundry. The amendment effected by clauses 6 and 7 of this bill will allow these extra charges to be covered by benefits paid from the special account in cases where the patients' insurance coverage is high enough to meet the extra charges as well as the gross fees.

The bill also provides for an amendment of the constitution of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. This is the expert committee which advises the Government on what drugs and medicines are to be listed as pharmaceutical benefits. The committee has done valuable work for the Government in a difficult field. The work of the committee has become extremely onerous, more particularly since the range of pharmaceutical benefits was considerably widened a year or so ago. With a view to strengthening the committee, it is proposed to increase by two the representation of medical practitioners nominated by the Federal Council of the British Medical Association. The panel of names to be submitted by the association for this purpose is to be increased from six to ten.

The remaining clauses of the bill are merely machinery provisions and I shall be pleased to supply at the committee stage any further information desired by honorable members. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Fraser) adjourned.

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