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Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Page: 6261


Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet) (18:52): In relation to the amendment, the government will not be accepting that. In relation to the bill, we thank the opposition for their support for the general bill and the compliance measures.

In particular, this bill is about cracking down on that very small proportion of practitioners, or practices or other people who may seek to defraud the Medicare system. I note that we have a wonderful medical community. We have an honest medical community. But, as in all parts of life, there are a very small number of people who seek to do the wrong thing. I thank the opposition for their support for this bill, and I actually agree with the shadow minister that we are dealing with the possibility of a small number who may do the wrong thing. I hope that this bill is actually never required, but, where necessary, it will be there in the same way that an X-ray machine at an airport is there: to deter and, if necessary, to detect.

In general, the Health Legislation Amendment (Data-matching and Other Matters) Bill 2019 amends the National Health Act 1953, the Health Insurance Act 1973, the Privacy Act 1988, the Private Health Insurance Act 2007, the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 to support the integrity of Medicare through data matching for compliance purposes, while employing strong privacy and data protection provisions. While the overwhelming majority of healthcare providers claim the Medicare Benefits Schedule, or the MBS, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or the PBS, and child dental benefits appropriately, it is unfortunate that a very small proportion do not. It is in that situation entirely reasonable for Australians to expect the government has appropriate systems in place to detect instances of Medicare noncompliance and treatment pathways proportionate to the type of noncompliance detected. This will ensure that every taxpayer dollar of our precious healthcare spend is directed to clinically necessary services for Australians. If just one-half of a per cent of Medicare payments are fraudulently, incorrectly or inappropriately billed, approximately $180 million of healthcare benefits are lost every year that could be better directed to essential healthcare services in Australia such as new PBS medicine listings. This bill enables a scheme of data-matching for related purposes to therefore improve our ability to detect fraud, instances of incorrect claiming and inappropriate practices that are not easily or efficiently detected through current data analytics activities and other intelligence sources.

To ensure strong privacy and data protections, the Minister for Health and the chief executive of Medicare are required to put in place governance arrangements for the handling of information for data matching. This includes putting in place legislative provisions to ensure that the use, storage, access and handling of data protects privacy. It is a matter of fundamental importance and a deep and abiding commitment of the government. Data matching will therefore be overseen by the Australian Information Commissioner to ensure appropriate regulatory oversight and that personal information is maintained and handled in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988.

This bill facilitates the important public policy objective of protecting the integrity of taxpayer funded healthcare programs. It achieves this while maintaining strong and appropriate protections for data privacy and security. I thank the opposition for their constructive engagement and give my commitment that, prior to tabling the legislative instrument, we will consult with not just the opposition but also the AMA and the College of General Practitioners. I thank the opposition, the RACGP and the Australian Medical Association for their engagement, and other parts of the health and medical community. I thank also my department and, in particular, I thank my senior adviser, Kylie Wright, who is in the chamber at this moment. Kylie has put many hours into the development and consultation process surrounding this bill. I thank all members for their contribution to the debate on this bill and I commend it to the House in its unamended form.

The SPEAKER: The original question was this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for McMahon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.