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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Health) - The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has taken a rather tenuous peg on which to hang his question. The amendment to which he referred has nothing to do with the common fee.

Mr Hayden - Will the Minister answer the question?

Dr FORBES - I would like first of all to clarify the meaning of the amendment. The Commonwealth has a range of payments prescribed for statutory committees which would apply to the members of the specialist committee. Unless something was written into the Act this would not apply to a consultant. It is a pretty common practice when we engage various people in the medical profession to do things on an ad hoc basis to determine a professional fee for that purpose. This has nothing to do with the common fee.

If you will permit me, Mr Chairman, I would like to answer the specific question asked by the honourable member. I emphasise - andI think it is important to do so - that it had nothing to do with the peg on which the honourable member hung the question. All that I or my Director-General have done is make a statement of fact. It will be clear to anybody who has examined the Bill that there is no legal obligation on a medical practitioner to charge a certain fee. When doctors have asked me whether they would be under a legal obligation to charge the common fee I have answered that there is no legal obligation. I was not present when my DirectorGeneral made the statement to which the honourable member referred, but it is a fact that medical practitioners are not under a legal obligation to charge the common fee. However, I have also said on many occasions that unless a substantial proportion of the medical profession does in fact charge the common fee our health benefits plan will not achieve the degree of patient satisfaction which is the Government's objective. I have said also that I can see no reason why the great majority of the medical profession should not charge the common fee for the very reason that the definition of what the common fee is, is precisely what the majority of doctors are charging at the present moment. So 1 would expect that at least until the time when we normally would expect the regular review of their fees, of which I have spoken already tonight, there is no reason why the medical profession should not go on charging the fees which it has been commonly charging until now.

Mr Hayden - The medical profession can exceed the common fee if it wishes to?

Dr FORBES - I have answered that question. No legal obligation exists in this Bill to require a medical practitioner to charge a particular fee.

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