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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 922

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:20 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Health Insurance Amendment (Pathology Requests) Bill 2010 will improve patient choice of pathology services, and encourage providers to compete on price and quality of service.

Currently the Health Insurance Act 1973 requires that, in most cases, in order for a Medicare benefit to be payable for a pathology service rendered by or on behalf of an approved pathology practitioner, a request for the service must be made to that particular pathology practitioner or the approved pathology authority at which they work. This means that a patient is effectively required to take a completed request form to the approved pathology practitioner or authority named on the form. This restriction does not apply to other diagnostic services that attract Medicare benefits.

This bill removes this restriction so that, while there will still be a legislative requirement for a request for a pathology service to be made, there will no longer be a requirement that the request be made to a particular approved pathology practitioner or authority. This legislative change will allow patients to take a pathology request to an approved pathology practitioner or authority of their choice and will encourage pathology providers to compete on price and convenience for patients.

The government supports a patient’s right to choose their pathology provider, just as they are entitled to choose their own GP or any other medical practitioner.

Medical practitioners who request pathology services will still be free to make recommendations to patients about which pathology provider they feel is best suited to their needs. Feedback from requesters has shown that there are often valid clinical reasons for recommending a particular pathology provider over another. The government recognises the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and will continue to encourage medical practitioners to discuss with patients options for all aspects of their treatment, including pathology services.

Convenience and access to bulk-billing are some of the reasons that a patient may wish to choose one provider over another. However, patients will also need to be aware of the potential consequences of not keeping their requesting practitioner informed of their choice, as this may impact on the continuity of their care.

In the case of diagnostic imaging requests, patients already have the option of taking their request form to any provider, not just the one named on the request form. These changes to the Health Insurance Act merely bring the arrangements for pathology requests in line with those for other diagnostic services.

The amendments will take effect from 1 July 2010.

The government will also make changes to relevant regulations prior to 1 July 2011 to require that requests for pathology services include a clear and understandable statement, which is obviously positioned, making patients aware that requests can be taken to any approved pathology practitioner or authority.

Pathology providers will be able to continue to produce ‘branded’ request forms (that include the company logo and address) and to provide these to requesting medical practitioners. These may include a list of the locations of that provider’s collection centres. They will, however, be required from 1 July 2011 to include on their request forms a clear and understandable statement, which is obviously positioned, making patients aware that these forms can be taken to any approved pathology practitioner or approved pathology authority.

Options for the wording of this statement is one of a range of implementation issues being discussed with requesters, providers and consumers of pathology services as part of the stakeholder consultation process currently being conducted by my department.

We believe informed patient choice is a key element of quality health care. This amendment will ensure that patients have a right to choose their pathology provider and are made aware of that fact, leading to increased competition and better service among providers. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.