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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1586

(Question No. 73)

Senator Puplick asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 19 March 1985:

Do patients who travel from remote areas of New South Wales to the Royal North Shore Hospital for the performance of an abortion have entitlement to a refund of their travelling costs under the Isolated Patient Travel Scheme, but if they travel to the same hospital for procedures connected with the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) program they are not entitled to a refund under the Scheme; if so:

(a) does this situation arise because simply there is no ''item number'' for IVF procedures, and for no other reason; and, if so, does the Minister consider this a valid and proper reason; and

(b) what is the Government doing to ensure that this scandalous bureaucratic maladministration of the health system is corrected.

Senator Grimes —The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Provided all other eligibility criteria are met, IPTAAS benefits are available for termination of pregnancy by specialist medical practitioners because this procedure is listed in the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Benefits are not presently available for IVF related travel because this service is not a specific item within the Schedule.

The Scheme is administered in accordance with Part III of the National Health Act. Since the establishment of IPTAAS in 1978 a nexus between the Schedule and IPTAAS has been considered appropriate, not only to define the range of services covered by IPTAAS, but also to ensure taxpayers' funds are used only in connection with proven forms of medical treatment. Obviously there will always be a period of necessary investigation and evaluation before a new medical procedure can be considered for inclusion in the Schedule. The decision on IVF procedures has been further complicated by unresolved legal and ethical issues.

A committee established by the Government is reviewing the Medicare Benefits Schedule and has received and considered submissions on the inclusion of IVF in the Schedule. While I am not in a position to speculate on the committee's findings, if IVF as a procedure were to be included in the Schedule, benefits would become available for IVF related travel provided the remaining IPTAAS eligibility criteria were met.