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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2469

Senator PETER BAUME —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, concerns a medical practice in the St George area which seeks to serve veterans and to bulk bill the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Why has it taken so long for the Minister's Department to process its claims for payment? Is he aware that his Department's reimbursement payments for medical practices such as this are taking up to five months to complete? Is he aware, for example, that until we called his Department in October this particular practice had had no payments since May? Does he acknowledge that, despite his claim that the average processing time for these reimbursements should be 90 days, they are running as slow as 230 days? Does he agree that this is disgracefully incompetent and inefficient? In the interests of veterans, will the Minister assure the Senate that he will take steps to ensure that the average processing time is reduced to a reasonable period, perhaps to 60 days, throughout 1986?

Senator GIETZELT —I am aware of a number of delays that are taking place in the payment of accounts from medical practitioners. I am talking generally; I am not aware of the particular one to which Senator Baume referred. The delay has taken place for a number of reasons. It has been the intention of the Department to overcome this difficulty by establishing a new system of payments. A manual system has operated for many years. With the growth in treatment services to veterans generally and the growth of local medical officers throughout Australia, there has been an explosion of services and treatment providers within the Department. We became aware of this several years ago but, unfortunately, staff ceilings imposed by the previous Government has some effect upon changing the system to a more computerised and more modern method of payment of such accounts. Even though we have subsequently made more staff available, the expansion of treatment services generally has created this problem. I am talking in a general sense and not specifically to the problem in the St George area to which Senator Baume referred. The Department hopes that within the next few months we will catch up with the backlog in the treatment of accounts from medical practitioners. I can assure the honourable senator that the problem occurs in many places in Australia. We are not satisfied with that and steps have been taken to improve the situation. Those practitioners affected are asked to bear with us for a short time until we solve the problem. In the case to which Senator Baume specifically referred, if he takes it up with me personally after Question Time, I will see that that account is paid promptly.