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Tuesday, 19 November 1974
Page: 2548


Senator Baume (NEW SOUTH WALES) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:

(   1 ) Does the Minister claim that there arc too many health benefit organisations in Australia.

(2)   How many additional health benefit organisations have been registered since 2 December 1 972.

(3)   What are the names of those organisations and on what date was registration approved, in each case.

(4)   Why did the Minister approve such registrations, at a time when the Government claimed that there were already too many health benefit organisations.


Senator Wheeldon - The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(   1 ) The Minister for Social Security believes that a universal health insurance scheme is the most efficient means of providing health insurance. In the context of the existing arrangements, however, the Minister for Social Security has expressed the view that there are too many health benefit organisations in the sense that they duplicate services unnecessarily and expend contributors' funds on competitive advertising which is undesirable. Until the Universal Health Insurance Scheme, 'Medibank', comes into operation on July 1 1 975 the Minister for Social Security has accepted the need to provide interim repair work to the present defective system of private health insurance by allowing registration of some small organisations which provide health insurance coverage for special groups in the community. These include organisations in particular districts, those conducted by employee groups, unions etc. In fact, because of the defects of the present system of private health insurance, the Minister for Social Security has encouraged the registration of additional organisations e.g., the Aboriginal Medical Service, to ensure that particular groups are adequately provided for pending the introduction of the Government's Universal Program.

(2)   Four health benefits organisations have been registered under the National Health Act since 2 December 1972- three medical benefits funds and one hospital benefits fund. During the same period, six organisations have had their registration cancelled under the National Health Acttwo medical benefits funds and four hospital benefits funds.

(3)   The names of those organisations and the dates of registration are as follows:

(a)   Medical Benefits Funds

Aboriginal Medical Service- 21 September 1974 (New South Wales)

Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society in Queensland- 5 June 1974

Western Region Subsidised Health Benefits Fund (Victoria) 13 August 1974

(b)   Hospital Benefits Fund

Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society in Queensland- 5 June 1974

(4)   The reasons for the Minister's approval of these registrations are as follows:

(a)   Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society in Queensland

This organisation has been operating a medical benefits fund and a hospital benefits fund under the provisions of the National Health Act continuously since 1 July 1953 and 4 July 1967 respectively. However, all medical and hospital benefits organisations registered at 1 July 1970, wishing to continue in the National Health Scheme, were required under the provisions of the National Health Act 1970, to seek re-registration.

This organisation applied for re-registration but was refused by the then responsible Minister. Notwithstanding this refusal, it continued to operate under 'deemed' registration provisions of the National Health Act 1970 (section 61 ) pending the hearing of an appeal lodged by the organisation under section 80 of the Act against the Minister's decision. The appeal was originally expected to be listed for hearing by the Supreme Court of Queensland in March 1971. However, the organisation took no initiating action to have the appeal brought on for hearing. Because of the technical situation that arose from the 'deemed' registration which the organisation held, there was doubt as to whether contributors would be adequately protected in the event of either the appeal being dismissed by the Supreme Court or the organisation withdrawing its appeal. For this reason the Minister for Social Security when reviewing the situation decided to restore the organisation's full registration. This ensured the protection of contributors rights. The appeal that had been lodged by the organisation then lapsed.

(b)   Aboriginal Medical Service, and Western Region Subsidised Health Benefits Fund

These two organisations are registered under the National Health Act as 'contract' medical benefits organisations (see section 13 (i) for definition of'contract arrangements') and as such are reimbursed for one half the salaries paid by the organisation to the doctors employed. Aboriginal Medical Service provides free medical treatment for aboriginal members of the community, given by doctors employed at the Centre. The Minister for Social Security visited the Centre in March 1973 and formed the opinion that it was an excellent project, commendable for successful local initiatives which deserved fostering.

The Western Region Subsidised Health Benefits Fund was set up under the auspices of the Trade Union Clinic and Research Centre Limited, Footscray, Victoria, to provide a comprehensive range of free health services to eligible pensioners and their dependants, who would otherwise normally receive free treatment from participating doctors under the Pensioner Medical Service arrangements.

Initially, representatives of the Trade Union Clinic made application to enter into an agreement with the DirectorGeneral ofSocial Security under the Pensioner Medical Service arrangements. This followed the withdrawal by certain doctors in the Footscray area from the Pension Medical Service, as a result of which the Clinic was treating an increasing number of pensioners without charge.

As aspects of this proposal could not be resolved satisfactorily, the alternative approach of registering the fund as a contract' organisation in respect of such pensioners was adopted.







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