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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5715

Senator HUTCHINS (2:06 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware of the inadequate arrangements, which differ in each state and territory, for the provision of breast prostheses to women? Will the government support Labor's proposal that breast prostheses be provided free of charge in Australia's public hospitals through the upcoming Australian health care agreements to women throughout Australia who have had a mastectomy?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator Hutchins for his question and of course Labor would no doubt pull a stunt like this when we are all concerned about those women who have been affected by breast cancer and who have died from breast cancer. Some 12,500 every year are affected by, or die as a result of, breast cancer. I am aware of the concerns of members. They have written to me about the provision of external breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies. There are issues about Medicare benefits. The Medicare benefits arrangements were designed to provide assistance to people who incur medical expenses in respect of professional services rendered by a qualified medical practitioner. Medicare benefits are not payable for aids and/or appliances including breast prostheses. Funding for such prostheses, irrespective of whether it is a breast prosthesis, an artificial limb or any other prosthesis, for public patients in hospitals is a matter for state and territory health departments. Some health insurers cover the cost of prostheses as part of their ancillary cover.

The Commonwealth will be happy to discuss the funding of prostheses with the states in the context of the Australian health care agreements, but I remind Senator Hutchins that the states had a $3 billion windfall in the last health care agreement, when private hospital insurance membership went up and we did not claw back the money from the states. With $3 billion they could very well do something about breast prostheses, and I would welcome federal Labor Party members putting pressure on their state colleagues to address this issue. The states are funded to deal with these issues, whether they be breast prostheses or any other sort of prosthetic, and they have had a $3 billion windfall to do so. The number of patients admitted to private hospitals has gone up and the number admitted to public hospitals has gone down. They have had a windfall and they should be able to address it. I encourage Senator Hutchins to go to the minister in New South Wales and encourage that person to do this.

The government have provided unprecedented growth in funding for hospitals through the current agreements and, over the five-year life of the agreements, which ends next year, we have increased our support for public hospitals by around 28 per cent. With this level of funding, I will expect the states to be able to afford prostheses for women who require them.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that some women who cannot afford the cost of a prosthesis have been required to resort to stopgap measures such as the recycling of prostheses of women who have passed away? Will the government use the current negotiations over the Australia health care agreements to ensure that women who need breast prostheses do not have to suffer these same indignities?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I have just indicated to the honourable senator that the provision of prostheses is the responsibility of the states. The states had a 28 per cent increase in funding in the last round of agreements. They are responsible for prostheses not only for people who have had breast cancer but also for other people who have lost limbs and who require prostheses. I ask honourable senators on the other side of the chamber to put pressure on their state Labor governments to deliver the benefits to their constituents that they ought to deliver, given the Commonwealth's commitment to the state health care agreements, and to encourage the states to provide prostheses to women who have had a mastectomy.