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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
17/10/2012
Estimates
HEALTH AND AGEING PORTFOLIO
Health Workforce Australia

Health Workforce Australia

[22:18]

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you give me your 2010-11 actual expenses, or a reference to it from your annual report?

Mr Cormack : The outcome for 2011-12 was total expenses of $349 million and a deficit of $72.695 million.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can you take it on notice about that period of 2010? I think you were established in January 2010.

Mr Cormack : I can give you 2010-11. The total expenses were $75.4 million, a surplus of $175.6 million.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I remember you were recruiting lots of people. How many staff do you now have?

Mr Cormack : We have a head count of 135.

Ms Halton : I hope when you get all these staffing numbers, Senator, you are going to get to the bottom line which is in here and not some of the numbers I have seen reported publicly alleged as being in my portfolio.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In relation to 2012-13, how is your budget tracking?

Mr Cormack : We are tracking right on line according to budget.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can you tell me about Program 1.1—PBS 454 about budgeted expenses that provides revenue from government amounts from the portfolio. Does that come from program 12.1? Is that one of those ones where you get moneys?

Mr Bria : We get funds from DoHA through a funding agreement. I think it comes out of 12.1.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So it is through a funding agreement and out of 12.1.

Mr Bria : We do not have a direct appropriation.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I understand how that operates. I will just put on notice some questions in relation to work that you might have done in the mental health and ageing workforce area, Mr Cormack.

Senator WRIGHT: I have two questions about rural and remote health workers in relation to reform strategy and what the expected time frame for the completion of the strategy is.

Mr Cormack : The strategy has undergone extensive public consultation and we have a well finalised draft for that strategy. We anticipate that it will be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Senator WRIGHT: To what extent will the strategy look at and respond to challenges facing the mental health workforce in rural, regional and remote Australia and will there be a specific plan for addressing current capacity issues and major challenges in the future?

Mr Cormack : There will be some coverage of mental health issues as they relate to rural and remote workforce issues, but there are also some separate work that we will be undertaking specifically on mental health. We have just commenced that. That is separate from the rural and remote strategy.

Senator WRIGHT: So is that part of another strategy that is named that I could refer to? How clear or definite is that other work that is being undertaken and what is the time frame for that work?

Mr Cormack : It is a body of work that is identified in our work plan. Our work plan is signed off each year by the health ministers. There are three pieces of work underway. The first is a workforce study on mental health peer workforce. The second relates to competencies for mental health work and the third is a workforce study which will look at the forward workforce requirements across the sector. This builds on a study that we published a bit over 12 months ago on the profile of the non-government organisation mental health workforce.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So I guess in terms of rural, regional and remote mental health that will be an aspect of that work.

Mr Cormack : We would certainly anticipate it would be.

CHAIR: Thank you to the officers from Health Workforce Australia. We now move to outcome 9.

[22:40]

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: PHIAC June quarter data found there was a $1.2 billion increase in prepayments of private health insurance premiums. Is this higher or lower than the department projected, and what is the effect of this prepayment on private health insurance expenditure in the 2011-12 financial year?

Mr Fawns : The budgeted expenditure in 2011-12 was about $4.95 billion, and the actual expenditure was about $5.47 billion, which is a difference of about $520 million from what was projected.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Presumably some of those people who prepaid may have still been in tier 1 or tier 2 and received 20 or 10 per cent of the rebate in 2012-13 but have now received a 30 per cent rebate in 2011-12 instead. Are you now expecting rebate expenditure to be less in 2012-13 than what you otherwise would have expected?

Mr Fawns : It is a demand driven program. The other indicator that has come out of last financial year is that to June 2012 we had the highest number of people undertaking private health insurance. I guess what I am articulating there is that there are a number of drivers that will impact on the expenditure, not just whether there were prepayments but also the level of take-up by consumers.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: These considerable prepayments appear to have just shifted and inflated expenditure. It is not just a shift of expenditure from one year to another; you are just saying there are other factors that influence that?

Mr Fawns : That is correct.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you expecting changes in policy behaviour, dropping or downgrading to be delayed by 12 or 18 months or the period of the prepayments—in other words, are we going to see in 12 or 18 months a change in behaviour?

Dr Bartlett : We talked before about modelling that was done in terms of what the impact of the means-testing is going to be. The dropout numbers in the modelling were very low. We do not anticipate that will change. Downgrades have not been modelled at any stage, and I think we are going to struggle to give you an answer as to what will or will not be the effect of what has happened. People will make decisions based on a range of choices. It is very difficult to predict that sort of behaviour.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The final budget outcome at page 9 says that increases in personal benefits and grants payable for a number of health programs of $549 million largely reflect a higher than forecast number of policy prepayments by private health insurance customers and higher than expected claims for Medicare services.

Dr Bartlett : I am sorry, I am not sure—to which document were you referring?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: This is the final budget outcome, which was circulated by the Treasurer and the finance minister. It came out a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, the Treasurer and the finance minister have a view about the impact, and are basically just reflecting a higher than forecast number of policy prepayments by private health insurance customers and higher than expected claims for Medicare services. That is why I raised it, because I am surprised that there appears to be a difference of opinion there.

Dr Bartlett : Sorry, Senator: there was a statement there that there were prepayments made as part of the private health insurance changes, and there is a separate statement there about MBS budget. As I understand it, the two are not connected—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It just goes to the higher than forecast number of policy prepayments by customers.

Dr Bartlett : There were a number of prepayments; I cannot add a lot to that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It goes to the impact. Basically, if I understand it correctly, Treasury has estimated the impact of the prepayment to be $549 million. My question is: do you agree with Treasury that that is the impact?

Dr Bartlett : The difficulty that we have is that DHS records payments that are made; there is no record in their system than explicitly identifies whether that is a prepayment or a payment. We can go through and we can take a view as to what has happened, but we do not actually have data that would allow us to give the sort of number that you are quoting there with any certainty.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am happy to give you a copy of the document.

Dr Bartlett : Sure.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is the Treasurer who has distributed it, so, obviously, do not cavil with me; cavil with Mr Swan and Ms Wong—whoever has distributed the document. Perhaps you might provide some sort of explanation. Clearly, they have made an assessment that it is worth $549 million. It is not me who is making that assertion. I am just referring to a document. So do not—

Dr Bartlett : Senator, I am sorry; I am not trying to be difficult or argue the point—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I asked you an estimate of it; I then took you to this document, where they estimate it to be $549 million, and, obviously, you do not take my word for it. But I am happy to give you a copy of the document and then perhaps you might like to comment on whether you are right or if the Treasury has it wrong.

CHAIR: I think we have the process: you should give the officers the document and take the question on notice, and—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely. I am happy to give it to them, but it is the final budget outcome 2011-12 and I would have thought that the officers from the department would be familiar with that document.

CHAIR: We will have it on questions on notice, Dr Bartlett. Now we will have the two agencies. I apologise to rural health; we could not get to you and I do apologise for keeping you here this long.