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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
17/10/2012
Estimates
HEALTH AND AGEING PORTFOLIO
Private Health Insurance Ombudsman

Private Health Insurance Ombudsman

[22:33]

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have questions in relation to the Private Health Insurance Administration Council. Can I take you to the 2010-11 financial year—actual expenses?

Mr Gath : The actual expenses for PHIAC in the year 2010-11 were $5,548,166.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And in the year 2011-12?

Mr Gath : In that year they were $5,621,090.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In relation to 2012-13, 553. Your funds come from a portion from the Commonwealth and a portion from other sources?

Mr Gath : No, they do not. They come entirely from a levy on the industry. We have two sources of funds but the administration costs are borne by a levy under the Private Health Insurance (Council Administration Levy) Act 2003.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Do you have some expenses or some funding from the department?

Mr Gath : No, we do not.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Okay. In relation to staffing, what is the number of your staff?

Mr Gath : The current FTE in the organisation is 32½, not including our board which, if you include them as FTEs—and we can argue about that—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: No.

Mr Gath : We will not, okay. The current working staff of the organisation excluding the board is 32.5 FTE.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Do you have any comments in relation to the fee pre-payment and the impacts?

Mr Gath : Not really.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Not really?

Mr Gath : No. Let me be briefer: no.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you very much. I might ask the same questions in relation to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman.

Ms Gavel : First of all, you want to know the 2010-11 expenses?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes.

Ms Gavel : They were $2,324,866 and for 2011-12 they were $2,443,403.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And in relation to 2012-13?

Ms Gavel : Budgeted $2,451,497. Do you want what starts down?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes.

Ms Gavel : $1,878,435.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. Now, in terms of staff numbers?

Ms Gavel : Our ASL is 12.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: With the recent changes, have you had complaints from the public? Can you tell me a little about the reaction or approaches that you have had in relation to some of these changes, Ms Gavel?

Ms Gavel : We have been monitoring inquiries and complaints to the office since mid February this year. During that time we have had about 31 inquiries and about 10 complaints, of which three were complaints that we took on and investigated further. Those complaints were to do with people who had had problems with the pre-payment of their premium.

CHAIR: Thank you very much to the two agencies. I can guarantee in the next estimates that you will not be last. I give you that guarantee.

[22:38]

CHAIR: Welcome, as always, to the officers from the Office of Hearing Services.

Senator SIEWERT: I go to the recommendations from the Hear Us report. You have been on a bit of a slip-up, probably by both the agency and the committee, in that I asked during the last estimates for another update table on the recommendations. Do you have it?

Ms Duffy : Not only that, the table that we have got for you tonight has the updated parts in red text for ease of reference to see what has happened since last time.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks. We have just been having a toing and froing. I have been through all the estimates answers and could not see it. That is much appreciated. Because it is only available now, I will probably put a few questions on notice on that, unless there are specific areas that you wanted to highlight before we have a look at it.

Ms Duffy : There are a couple of areas that we have received updates on. We have updates from FaHCSIA, DEEWR and the Northern Territory government. In particular, there were two recommendations that there has been some advancement on—that is, recommendation 21, relating to educational needs in Indigenous children in the joint task force. With that one, a number of the standing councils got together on 14 September and agreed that a national mapping exercise be undertaken on the three identified activities. What was also agreed was that that mapping exercise would identify gaps and overlaps and the results would be provided at the next meeting in early 2013.

Senator SIEWERT: So there is about a six-month period where that mapping will be undertaken?

Ms Duffy : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: And then, presumably, you will work out from there the next steps.

Ms Duffy : FaHCSIA will advise.

Senator SIEWERT: Anything else?

Ms Duffy : The other recommendation where there was quite a bit of movement was recommendation 7. That relates to the e-technology programs for children. FaHCSIA again has identified that, as part of the current program, the blind teleschool program, they announced some additional funding for Remote Hearing and Vision Services for Children initiative. They have gone through a funding phase and the successful application from VidKids has been approved. That project is now rolling out.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you very much. I have some specific questions around Rehab Plus, unless you have some around the recommendations.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I was going to ask a series of financial questions, but I will put those on notice, Senator Siewert, if you want to continue.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks. I understand there is a review process for Rehab Plus.

Ms Duffy : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you give us the time line for that.

Ms Duffy : Sure. I think last time the department mentioned that there was a report done. We have now published that report on the website. That went out at the end of September. Part of that also included a discussion paper seeking views from stakeholders, including some of the industry groups, for comment. The closing time for that discussion paper is 31 October, at which time the department will analyse what comes in and provide some advice to the minister.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. What is your time line for reviewing what comes in?

Ms Duffy : I guess it depends on the complexity of what we receive. We would be hoping to move that along quickly because we are obviously wanting to make some improvements in that program.

Senator SIEWERT: I suspect in answer to some of these questions you will say you will wait, but we will see. How many people has Rehab Plus had referred to it?

Ms Duffy : All up or in the last financial year?

Senator SIEWERT: Can you give me both?

Ms Duffy : Sure. The total from the start date of the initiative is 9,447. Last financial year, the figure was 1,910; in 2010-11 it was 2,508; in 2009-10 it was 2,607; in 2008-09 it was 2,096; and the half-year effect in 2007-08 when the initiative started was 326.

Senator SIEWERT: That was for the half-year?

Ms Duffy : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Are they the people who have been referred? Or are they those who are actively participating?

Ms Duffy : They are the people who have claimed under the item.

Senator SIEWERT: What percentage of the people who could be eligible make use of the services? That is a pretty small amount, isn't it?

Ms Duffy : We do have those figures. The percentage of those who could be eligible and who claimed overall is 3.74 per cent.

Senator SIEWERT: And, of course, that is the reason you are doing the review.

Ms Duffy : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: How much overall has been allocated to the program? Are you able to tell me that now?

Ms Duffy : It is a demand driven component of the program. I can tell you the expenditure on it to date. That is an amount of $856,563.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that for the life of the program?

Ms Duffy : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you done the maths for how much that is per person? I can do it myself, but if you have done it, it saves me doing it.

Ms Duffy : I do not have it in front of me.

Senator SIEWERT: That is okay; I can do that myself. Looking at where to from here, are there comparable models you have looked at, either from overseas or from other services, that you could look at as references for any review?

Ms Duffy : As part of the review process we would be looking at all available information, both nationally and internationally, to make sure we have covered off as much as we can.

Senator SIEWERT: Will you actually be talking to external bodies about possible models—actively engaging with them? Or will you be looking at what you get in through the review process—the discussion process?

Ms Duffy : I do think in some cases it will depend on what we get through the review process and on the options we put forward to the minister for consideration—whether that is part of the consideration.

Senator SIEWERT: Will you be actively asking clients to participate in that process?

Ms Duffy : The review process is an open process, so it is on the website publicly.

Senator SIEWERT: I suppose where I am coming from is that I do not necessarily think former clients will necessarily think to go back and have a look at the website and get involved in the process, but they may actually have something quite useful to contribute.

Ms Duffy : I would see why there would not be a problem with that. Reaching those clients might be something we would need to look at in terms of how we make contact or how we advertise or let them know the review is happening, either through service providers or though consumer groups and so forth.

Senator SIEWERT: Consumer groups might be a useful way. Can you remind me how people know about Rehab Plus? Everybody is offered access to the service, aren't they?

Ms Duffy : Service providers have a responsibility to make that offer to eligible clients, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: I know we have had discussions previously about how people then improve their communication and understanding of the program. When you are looking at the services, are they also including and focusing on psychosocial wellbeing and social inclusion being funded as part of the Rehab Plus program? Are you looking at some of the social issues around getting people to engage better and make more appropriate use of their aids?

Ms Duffy : The discussion paper draws on the review that was done. There were certain areas in the review that the discussion paper focuses on, and they are around the design and implementation and the operational administrative aspects as well as client preferences and the way clients understand their health situation, and concerns and characteristics of each of the clients. Broadly, we will probably look at that, but I do not think it is specifically set out in those words.

Senator SIEWERT: I might get back to you and look at refining some specific issues around that. Is the HLA program being considered separately from Rehab Plus?

Ms McDonald : Could you explain your question a little bit more?

Senator SIEWERT: Are programs that facilitate the role of audiologists and staff in providing psychosocial advice and support to clients, which I understand is provided as part of the Hearing Loss Australia process, being considered as part of the review? Or is it completely separate?

Ms McDonald : Sorry, Senator; I am not across the program you are talking about. If you give us some more information about it we would be happy to take it on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, I will put those questions on notice. I think that is all I wanted to ask on Rehab Plus.

CHAIR: Ms Duffy, could we table that table? That would be very useful.

Ms Duffy : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I would like to thank the officers. And thank you, Senator McLucas. Again, to the officers from Hearing, you consistently seem to be the last on the agenda, and I do acknowledge that. Thank you very much for your resilience. We will now adjourn until tomorrow, when we will do the departments of FaHCSIA and Human Services. So, good evening.

Committee adjourned at 22 : 52