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Thursday, 4 May 1961


Mr BUCHANAN (McMillan) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,just recently we were all very interested to receive a copy of a publication by the Victorian Council of Social Services, in which was quoted a number of case histories of families. It points out how 56 low-income families live. It quotes the case histories of families who are obliged to make do on restricted incomes. I was thinking of the implications in respect of social welfare. [Quorum formed.] For the benefit of honorable members who have just come into the chamber, I point out that I was referring to a publication circulated by the Victorian Council of Social Services. I will quote from it some of the council's findings in respect of hospital benefit insurance. The publication states -

A major obstacle to hospital and medical insurance appears to be the requirement that bills must be paid before they can bc recovered from insurance associations.

The money is simply not available to pay the account, and insurance therefore has little appeal. In view of the importance of our "health services I think that this is a very great shame. Following on that complication, Mr. Lewis, a director of the Hospital Benefits Association, made a statement which was published as follows: - " All hospital and medical insurance organizations provided for benefit payments to be made direct to doctors or hospitals in cases of hardship", said Mr. E. Lewis, Director of H.B.A.

He said hospital insurance organizations did not want to make direct payments their general rule because of the amount of work involved and because people might then fail to appreciate that they were being helped by their insurance. "It would become commonplace just as the national insurance scheme has in Britain ", said Mr. Lewis. " We feel that the average person wants to pay his bills himself and we have always had provision for cases where hardship is involved ".

Mr. Lewispurports to speak for all the hospital organizations, but this view is not in accord with the policy of the La Trobe Valley Hospital and Health Services Association. This progressive organization is willing and anxious to help any of its subscribers to pay their doctors' accounts by making the amount of benefit available direct to the doctor as is so often done in respect of hospital accounts. This policy of payment direct to the doctor is based on the theory that members should be able to receive medical attention when they need it and should not have to wait until they can afford it. There is ample evidence that this policy has resulted in members of the La Trobe Valley Health Service shortening their stay in hospital because they were able to obtain attention in the early stages of a disease when surgery was comparatively simple rather than allowing a disease to develop until a major operation was required, by which time they would have saved sufficient money to be able to pay the doctor for it. I repeat, Sir, that the La Trobe Valley Health Service is willing and anxious to give its members this very desirable service.

However, the statement of Mr. Lewis clearly demonstrates that his organization, the Hospital Benefits Association, is not working in accordance with the intention of the act by introducing the unauthorized limitation that this facility shall be extended only in cases of hardship. His organization has introduced its own means test for members. It has done all that it can to discourage this method of payment. I have mentioned this matter in the House before and I remind honorable members that section 23 sub-section (2.) paragraph (b) of the act clearly indicates the Government's intention that an organization should have the option of paying claims direct to members or of paying the appropriate amount direct to the doctor, in which case the patient would pay the balance of the account. The patient clearly has this choice open to him as a right. It is part of the service that he should and does expect of his organization if it is to give him the utmost help. I point out, as further evidence that Mr. Lewis's organization is out of step with Government policy, that a booklet of the Department of Health, issued in 1953, set out to explain in simple language what was meant by the act. To the question of how the benefits would be paid, the answer in the booklet was -

Approved organizations will be free to decide for themselves whether the benefits including the Commonwealth subsidy will be paid directly to the member when he produces the receipted account from the doctor or directly to the doctor on the authority of the member who presents an unpaid account.

Mr. Lewis,in his statement, said that his organization was not prepared to give members this privilege of choice which is inherent in the act because he felt that members might not appreciate what was being done for them. I contend that the members of the La Trobe Valley Health Service which offers this very helpful assistance in meeting the large bills associated with surgery are very appreciative of their association's action in complying fully both with the spirit and the letter of the law. They recognize that this progressive benefit organization is motivated only by a desire to offer its members the utmost benefit for their subscriptions.







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