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Tuesday, 18 September 1973
Page: 1126

Mr DAVIES (BRADDON, TASMANIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. He will be aware that some doctors in Tasmania have advised pensioners with a pensioner medical service entitlement that they will not treat them under the present system as from the end of next month and that some doctors have advised their pensioner patients to join a medical benefits fund at 50c a week. I ask: Can those pensioners who are dependent solely on the pension be enrolled in the subsidised medical scheme because they cannot afford the 50c a week fee? If that is not possible, will the Minister consider some alternative method that will enable pensioners to continue to be entitled to the free hospital and medical treatment which they have received up to date under the pensioner medical service?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - I am aware- indeed, all honourable members will be aware - that a number of doctors have withdrawn from the pensioner medical service. Generally they have claimed that they will provide free medical treatment for pensioner patients. However assertions are made from time to time that free treatment is not available. All complaints of that nature which have been made to my office and which have been investigated - as far as I am aware, anyway - have not in fact been verified; that is, the doctors have been providing free treatment or in many cases in fact have not withdrawn from the pensioner medical service. Nonetheless, it is a disturbing trend and, I would suggest to the medical profession, one that is not reflecting creditably on it. Therefore, it is reflecting quite unfairly on the vast majority of the doctors who are working within the scheme. I point out quickly that under the scheme we will be bringing in next year the sorts of anomalies that are irritating doctors and which are an inheritance of 23 years of Liberal-Country Party administration will be overcome. We have already written to State health ministers alerting them to the withdrawal of doctors from the pensioner medical service, indicating areas where there are no other doctors participating in the service and seeking assistance from the State health ministers to ensure that adequate health and medical services are provided for these pensioners. As far as I am aware, we have received no replies at this stage. But I am sure that the maximum cooperation will be forthcoming.

Finally, there are difficulties if one were to extend the subsidised health insurance program to pensioners. The Department of Social Security has advised me that because of the income cut off point and because of the way in which the subsidised health insurance benefits are described to benefit families as distinct from individuals, a great number of pensioners would be excluded from subsidised health insurance benefits. There will be over 650,000 single pensioners and more than 65,000 married pensioners who will be involved. So really, the subsidised health insurance benefit plan is not the answer to the problem. I hope that in the interim period, after which we will bring in our program, the State health ministers will be able to co-operate with us in the way in which I have indicated.

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