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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3315

Mr NEUMANN (5:06 PM) —At the risk of quoting someone who is not often quoted on this side of the House, I note patients should have freedom to choose, as Milton Friedman said. The truth is patients should be able to choose their GP and they should be able to choose their pathology provider without any cosy arrangements. There was some comment made in relation to the Health Insurance Amendment (Pathology Requests) Bill 2010 by the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia claiming that it is a professional right of doctors to determine to whom they refer their patients and that that would affect the quality of care. I think that is simply nonsense.

What we are doing here is ensuring better competition and improving the quality of service. It gives patients the opportunity to choose. Doctors will still be able to discuss this issue, as I am sure they do with patients concerning their care. It brings it all into line with other diagnostic imaging requests. It is simply quite amazing that these sorts of cosy arrangements have continued for a long time. Patients will inevitably, on the basis of geographic convenience, price and any number of other reasons, choose the pathologist of their choice. It does not stop doctors discussing this issue with their patients. I am sure that they can do it. Pathology providers will continue to be able to produce branded request forms that include the company logo and address. It simply means that patients have the opportunity as consumers to work out which provider of pathology services they want. In order to do this we have to amend the Health Insurance Act.

This 1973 act, so it goes back a long way, says that there needs to be a particular pathology provider if there is a request in relation to a Medicare-eligible pathology service. This legislation before the House removes that restriction. It means that the doctor will give the patient the opportunity to choose the pathology provider which they want. These legislative amendments take place from the middle of this year. They are well-crafted and necessary amendments, improving the quality of health care. They will improve information. It will mean that doctors will have to discuss this issue with their patients and that there will be competition on price accordingly. There will be a greater opportunity for patients to choose. I think, as many on both sides of this House think, that it is the right of Australians to choose the doctor that they want and that we will see an improvement in pathology services. I have seen correspondence in relation to this from pathologists and from the association which governs them. The correspondence they have undertaken in relation to this matter is quite hysterical. For the life of me I cannot understand why they are not in favour of increased competition and improved patient choice. The legislation that we have provided will make it fairer for patients.

The peak representative bodies have, as I have said, expressed concerns. I think that is rubbish. Doctors are still able to discuss the issue with their patients. Medicare benefits will be payable for pathology services. It will allow the patient to take a pathology request to an approved pathology practitioner of their choice. There will be a transition period of 12 months in respect of the changes to the regulations to minimise any difficulties in terms of the regulatory impact on practices. It will make a difference by having the Department of Health and Ageing undertake a communication strategy to inform the public, as well as doctors and pathologists, about this change. We allocated about $140,000 in the previous budget to undertake this. That includes the funding for the communication strategy. This will benefit patient choice in the community. I think it will improve pathology services and improve the health system. In all the circumstances I commend this legislation to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The question is that this bill be now read a second time. In the absence of the honourable member for Bowman, who is due to speak next, I am wondering whether the honourable member for Indi might like to make a short contribution while arrangements are made to have the next scheduled speaker arrive.