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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3581

Mr REYNOLDS (BARTON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that spokesmen for the Liberal and Australian Country Parties and the Australian Democratic Labor Party have decided that the answer to the present second rate pensioner medical service, which they uncritically supported during the previous Government's term of office, is to enrol pensioners in the subsidised health benefits plan? Have these spokesmen also criticised Labor's scheme on the ground of its excessive cost? Will the Minister inform the House as to the cost of enrolling pensioners and other low income groups in the subsidised health benefits plan? Will he also indicate how this would benefit these low income groups? What other groups may benefit from this arrangement?

Mr HAYDEN - If those pensioners entitled to benefits under the pensioner medical service were to be covered by the subsidised health insurance program - assuming that were possible because every effort to cover all people so far has failed with only four in every 100 low income families being covered so far - many of them would in fact be squeezed out because the income eligibility levels are much lower than they are for the pensioner medical service. It would mean that 650,000 single pensioners and 65,000 married pensioners would be squeezed out. Under the pensioner medical service the income eligibility level for a single person is $49.50, including pension, and for a married couple it is $86.50, with the levels rising in relation to any additional dependant who might be involved. It is inconceivable that either the Liberal Party or the DLP would want to squeeze people out from the benefits that they currently enjoy. Accordingly a higher limit would be set and many other people who are not currently covered would be covered by the subsidised health insurance benefits scheme.

The costing within my Department indicates that if this were done the additional cost of covering pensioners would be $160m and for non-pensioner people who would come into the scheme the cost would be $140m, making a total of $300m. This would be additional to the total cost of the present scheme, including the pensioner medical service, hospital benefits, repatriation and local medical officer services. Our scheme will cover everyone in the community. It will cover them all automatically, including groups which currently miss out on the subsidised health insurance scheme as it relates to the present system of health insurance, at no extra cost than the total cost of the present scheme which covers only 87.7 per cent of the population. An additional $300m is a lot of money for a first aid effort to patch up a virtually defunct scheme.

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