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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2684


The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-

The Bill before the Senate establishes the Health Insurance Commission as a statutory authority to plan and establish an organisation to administer the Government's health insurance program. Before proceeding to outline the salient features of the Bill, I would like to emphasise that this Bill provides for the planning and establishing of an organisation to administer the receiving and payment of medical and hospital benefits claims. This broadly is the function of the Commission. Those details of the Government's health program relating to medical benefits and hospital payments will be contained in other legislation to be introduced into the Senate in the near future. At that time the Senate will be able to fully consider the Government's proposals for universal health benefits coverage, which have been outlined in the White Paper titled 'The Australian Health Insurance Program ', which was tabled today.

The Commission will be a semi-autonomous authority consisting of 7 Commissioners. Six will be part-time Commissioners, one of whom must be a medical practitioner and another who shall be nominated by the Director-General of Social Security, and one full time Commissioner, the General Manager. The Bill provides for all 7 Commissioners to be appointed by the GovernorGeneral for periods not exceeding 5 years. All are eligible for re-appointment. Similarly, the termination of a Commissioner's appointment can only be effected by the Governor-General. The staff of the Commission will be appointed on terms and conditions determined by the Commission with the approval of the Public Service Board.

The creation of this authority implements an undertaking given by the Prime Minister in his policy speech; that 'in staffing the Health Insurance Fund, employment preference will be given to the employees of the present private funds, who will enjoy the entitlements, status and conditions and terms of employment accorded to Commonwealth public servants'. Special provisions are contained in the Bill to enable employees of registered medical and hospital benefit organisations, employed by the Commission, to retain their existing entitlements in relation to such matters as superannuation, sick leave, furlough, etc. These special provisions, again, are subject to approval of the Public Service Board. Amendments to other legislation, for example the Superannuation Act, are being effected to assist in the implementation of this undertaking. In this respect I draw the attention of honourable senators particularly to Clauses 30,31 and 32 of the Bill.

Provisions are included in the Bill to enable officers of the Australian Public Service to be seconded to the Commission for short periods. Officers engaged by the Commission would be covered by the Officers Rights Declaration Act. The finance provisions of the BUI relate to funds of the Commission required for administrative purposes. As I have indicated previously, authority for the Commission to make payments by way of medical benefits and hospital payments will be contained in the main body of the legislation governing the Government's universal health insurance plan.

The Bill also contains provisions requiring the Commission to prepare an annual report, which will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament. The report will principally relate to the Commission 's operations for a particular year, but the Bill also provides for any direction, in respect of a matter of policy, given by the Minister to the Commission, to be published in the annual report.

One further point which I would like to mention, although it does not specifically relate to provisions contained in the Bill, concerns the confidentiality of personal medical records and other information which will be required by the Commission in receiving and paying medical and hospital benefits claims. I would point out to honourable senators that the information the Commission will need will be less in content and less invasive of privacy than that now required and held by the present private health funds, whether in computer or manual systems. Further to this, I would like to draw the attention of honourable senators to the special committee which has been appointed by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) to advise on the protection needed to ensure privacy under the Government's health program. This inquiry is part of a larger project being carried out by the Attorney-General to examine what measures will be needed to guarantee the individual's right of privacy under Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Honourable senators will readily appreciate that the Commission, as a statutory authority, will be the most appropriate form of organization for the provision of an efficient service to the community in the payment of medical and hospital benefits claims.

The Government has already established an Interim Executive which has been involved in the initial planning of the Commission's work. The Interim Executive has already commenced investigations into efficient and modern methods of operation. The Executive recommended, after consultations with the private health funds concerning transitional arrangements, an arrangement where by the present private health funds act as agents for the Commission for periods up to three years for receiving claims and paying customary 'over the counter' benefits. This advice has been accepted by the Government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.







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