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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26257

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 19 July 2004:

(1) When will the roll-out of Medicare smartcards commence.

(2) Have the states' and territories' health ministers approved the draft National Health Privacy Code; if so, when; if not, when is this expected to occur.

(3) What progress has been made on developing mandatory national guidelines for ensuring privacy in relation to health information.

(4) What progress, if any, has been made on preparing specific e-health legislation to set out the rules governing initiatives such as the Medicare smartcards.

(5) What information will be provided to consumers participating in the Medicare smartcard initiative.

(6) Will the roll-out of Medicare smartcards be bound by the National Health Privacy Code and specific e-health legislation to ensure that individuals' rights to privacy are safeguarded; if not, what legislation or regulations will ensure that individuals' rights to privacy are safeguarded under this initiative.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Implementation of the Medicare smartcard commenced on 29 May 2004. The official launch of the Medicare smartcard was held on Wednesday 28 July in Launceston, Tasmania.

(2) No, the Australian Health Ministers have not yet approved the proposed National Health Privacy Code. Health Ministers will consider the Code at their November 2004 meeting.

(3) The Information Privacy Principles and the National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act 1988 outline mandatory requirements to ensure privacy in relation to all personal information, including health information, in the Australian Government sector and the private sector nationally. Most states and territories also have privacy arrangements (either legislative or administrative) in place for their public sectors. The proposed National Health Privacy Code is intended to provide health-specific privacy principles which, if adopted, would ensure a nationally consistent privacy regime for health information across Australia.

(4) The use of the Medicare smartcard as proposed does not require specific legislation. The Department is consulting with the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner to ensure that appropriate privacy safeguards are in place.

(5) Consumers in Tasmania will be invited via letter from the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) to register for a Medicare smartcard three months before their current Medicare card expires. As part of the invitation, consumers will be sent a brochure and some frequently asked questions and answers detailing the Medicare smartcard initiative.

The brochure and frequently asked questions will also be available in all Tasmanian Medicare offices as well as at

In addition to the brochure and frequently asked questions, the Medicare enrolment and/or Medicare smartcard registration form used to enrol consumers for a Medicare smartcard contains information detailing privacy and security issues.

(6) The National Health Privacy Code is still to be agreed by Health Ministers. The roll-out of the Medicare smartcard is subject to privacy arrangements contained in existing legislation. Both the Health Insurance Commission and the Department of Health and Ageing are subject to the Information Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act 1988 as well as the secrecy provisions contained in the National Health Act 1953 and the National Health Insurance Act 1973. Private sector health care organisations are bound by the National Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act 1988, including restrictions on the collection, use and disclosure of Commonwealth assigned identifiers.