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Friday, 29 May 1987
Page: 3661

(Question No. 5048)

Mr Jacobi asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 17 February 1987:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to comments made by the Director of Public Prosecutions in his annual report for 1985-86 to the effect that health insurance legislation is generally in an unsatisfactory state for the purpose of prosecutions.

(2) Do the charges laid in cases of Medicare and other health benefit fraud often not reflect the full extent of alleged criminality because it is necessary to lay a charge in relation to each offence and there is a limit to the number of charges that can be effectively dealt with at committal and trial.

(3) Is the Health Insurance Act beneficial in nature, not drafted with the purpose of prosecution in mind and, in many areas, vague and ambiguous.

(4) Should the deterrent effect of prosecution for Medifraud not be underrated.

(5) When does he intend to amend the legislation to make prosecution for fraud against the health insurance system more effective.

Dr Blewett —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) I am aware of the comments which appear in the 1985-86 Annual Report of the Director of Public Prosecutions which form the basis of the honourable member's question.

(2) As medical fraud cases usually comprise a multiplicity of individual services, indictments often contain only representative charges.

(3) The Health Insurance Act 1973 is quite obviously beneficial in nature, though it includes severe penalties for those who engage in deliberate medical fraud.

(4) There is a significant deterrent effect in prosecuting both public and practitioner medical fraud.

(5) As amendments to the Health Insurance Act over the last two years have made significant changes in relation to medical fraud offences, it is not the Government's intention to introduce further amendments at this time. I note, in particular, that the Health Legislation Amendment Act (No. 2) 1985 included a new Section 128B making it an offence for persons to knowingly make false statements that are capable of being used in connection with a claim for a benefit under the Act. The penalty for such an offence is quite severe-``a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for five years, or both''. In addition to this criminal penalty, the Amendment Act also created the Medicare Participation Review Committees which have wide-ranging powers, including the power to recommend that a provider of medical services be disqualified from participation in the medicare arrangements for a period of up to five years.