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Thursday, 31 October 1974
Page: 2197

Senator Baume asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:

(   1 ) Did the Commonwealth Government acquire in 1 946 responsibility for the medical and hospital care of Pensioners.

(2)   Is the total Commonwealth contribution towards bed costs for Pensioners$5 per day; if so, did this represent onethird of total bed cost when fixed in 1 966 and 1 967.

(3)   Does the $5 a day now represent only one-tenth of the cost to the States caring for Pensioners.

(4)   If the cost of hospital care of Pensioners is a Commonwealth responsibility, will the Minister undertake an urgent review of the present situation, so that the Commonwealth, by increasing its contribution in this area to the States can fulfil its Constitutional obligations.

Senator Wheeldon - The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(   1 ) The Australian Government was given, by referendum in 1946, the power to make laws with respect to the provisions of certain benefits, allowances and services including sickness benefits, hospital benefits and medical services. The Australian Government, by virtue of these powers, can assume certain responsibilities for the health care of the population generally, which of course, includes pensioners, but it does not have an exclusive or even dominant responsibility in that field. The State Governments have accepted that it is their role to control public hospitals and provide treatment from them and clearly asa result, the States have an obligation to the public generally including pensioners in that respect.

(2)   The National Health Act provides for the Australian Government to pay public hospitals $5 for each day that a pensioner eligible for the Pensioner Medical Service is provided with free treatment in a public ward. However, that is not the total contribution by the Australian Government towards the bed costs for pensioners. Previous LiberalCountry Party governments adopted the view that the general revenue grants made by the Australian Government to the States, to cover their broad range of responsibilities, included an element relating to the additional cost of pensioner hospitalisation above the $5 per day directly allocated for that purpose. The present Government agrees that this is a valid position.

(3)   It will be apparent from my answer to the second part of the honourable senator's question that a comparison of past and present relationships between the pensioner hospital benefit and average bed day costs is inappropriate when considered in isolation from the finance made available under the general revenue grants.

(4)   At the Australian Health Ministers' Conference on 16-18 August 1974, the State Ministers for Health sought an increase in the pensioner bed day benefit. The State Health Ministers were informed that, if they so wished, I would approach the Prime Minister to have the pensioner hospital benefit of $5 a day increased, subject to a corresponding adjustment of the general finance allocations to the States. This is in accordance with my view that if State governments have difficulties in identifying appropriate amounts of the general financial allocations that assist them to meet the cost of treating pensioners in public hospitals, the Australian Government could consider earmarking an appropriate portion of general allocation in the future.

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