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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

During his 1969 election policy speech, the Prime Minister announced that the changes in the medical benefits arrange ments as proposed at that stage would involve additional Commonwealth expenditure of approximately $16m a year. At that time, the Government proposed a general increase in the level of Commonwealth expenditure on medical benefits, based on the application of the most common fee concept to medical services as listed in the current medical benefits schedule. That is, the estimate of increased expenditure was based on the most common fee charged by all doctors collectively - both general practitioners and specialists - for the services listed in the Schedule. On that basis, $16m a year was and still is a reliable estimate. I have already mentioned the high level of security which the new medical insurance arrangements provide against the cost of operations and in cases of pre-existing or chronic illness.

During the period of development of the reconstructed scheme, the Government continued to consistently apply the principle that contributors to medical funds should receive the highest possible level of cover against medical fees and that the scheme should be refined wherever possible. Arising from the application of this policy, major improvements were introduced into the reconstructed scheme. I refer in particular to the provision of differential benefit rates for many services provided by general practitioners and specialists, which represents a major improvement. This decision has involved the separate specification of most common fees for services by general practitioners and specialists and has substantially altered the application of the common fee concept to the services as listed in the current benefits schedule.

As a result of the Government's decision to further improve the medical insurance arrangements, additional Commonwealth expenditure of the order of $ 13.5m a year, based on currently available data and current utilisation rates, will be undertaken. I should emphasise this point to honourable members: The Government in no way apologises for its decisions that this additional expenditure be undertaken. Indeed, it is proud to sponsor further improvements of the medical insurance scheme in order to ensure that contributors receive the highest possible level of cover against the cost of medical treatment.

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