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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3314

Dr SOUTHCOTT (5:02 PM) —The Health Insurance Amendment (Pathology Requests) Bill 2010 is a very straightforward bill. It provides for greater patient choice of pathology services. An individual’s choice of pathology practitioner is currently restricted by the Health Insurance Act 1973. This act requires that in order for a Medicare benefit to be paid for the pathology services rendered, a referral to a named provider is required. This means that a patient must take the request for service to the pathology provider specified by their doctor. This amendment enables a general referral to a pathology provider to be made, allowing patients to have a choice as to who they see. Whilst under the legislation a patient will still be required to have a referral for pathology services, this will be a generic referral and will not restrict the service provider they can visit, as is currently the case. This legislation should foster a system where there is some competition and also, most importantly, choice for patients. It gives patients choice regarding price, location and reputation of the provider.

This amendment brings the treatment for pathology services into line with those for other diagnostic services, where there is no requirement to name a provider in order to receive diagnostic imaging services. Specifically, these amendments ensure that, providing a patient has a current referral to a pathology service or pathologist, they would be entitled to take that referral to the provider of their choice for their service. There is a provision for pathology providers to provide branded request forms, as is currently the case. There is a requirement in this legislation that the patients be aware that they can take the referral to any pathology provider of their choice. There is no prohibition on the referring doctor suggesting a pathologist to their patient. This legislation anticipates that that discussion should occur between patients and their doctors. However, the patient does have a choice as to whether they accept the recommendation of their doctor or whether, for their own reasons, they choose to use the services of another pathology provider.

These proposed amendments have the effect of removing the existing requirement that a pathology request be made to a particular approved pathology practitioner or authority whilst retaining the requirement that a written request for pathology services be made by the treating practitioner. It should allow for more choice than is presently the case, and it should allow for patients to determine to take their business to the pathology provider of their choice, which they might use on the basis of service, on the basis of price or on the basis of locations. The opposition will not be opposing this legislation; it seems a sensible step in providing for more patient choice.