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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 521

Senator JESSOP (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware of the concern expressed by the paramedical professions that their patients are unable to attract the Commonwealth benefit under the existing national health scheme? Will the Minister urge the Government to revise the Act so that physiotherapy, dentistry and optometry are included in order that patients seeking treatment from such professions will be able to receive Commonwealth assistance similar to that afforded to patients of the medical profession?

Senator GREENWOOD - The honourable senator will be aware that the .medical benefits scheme was introduced to provide financial assistance towards meeting the cost of medical services rendered by qualified medical practitioners to persons who are members of medical benefits organisations. That is the whole core of our health scheme in this area. Commonwealth medical benefits are available only in respect of those professional services which are listed in the various schedules to the National Health Act. Paramedical services such as physiotherapy, dentistry and optometry to which the honourable senator has referred are not included in that list of professional services. The basic reason why the Government has always said that they are not included - I repeat that this is the basic reason - is the cost involved. There would be an enormous extension of costs if they were to be included. There are other considerations as to the difficulties of how a satisfactory scheme under which persons legitimately entitled to have the costs to those services met could be formulated. I give the Senate an example of this. In 1972-73 Commonwealth expenditure on health from the National Welfare Fund is estimated to be $592m - that is the Government's contribution - which represents an increase of about $65m over the amount expended in 1971-72. It is obviously a very large amount and the question of adding to it by providing benefits for paramedical services would need to be very carefully considered. That consideration has been given from time to time over the years and the question is kept constantly under review. Nevertheless some registered organisations do pay an ancillary benefit towards the cost of paramedical services. Whether such benefits are provided, and the extent to which they are provided, however, is a decision for the managements of the particular organisations.

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