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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1059

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (3.43 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Health (Senator Richardson), in response to a question without notice asked by Senator Chris Evans this day, relating to recovery of doctors fees.

I want to deal with the disgraceful failure of the Minister for Health, Senator Richardson, to detail many facts in the attack he made—the quite unfair slander, in effect—on a decent and honourable Nowra doctor. In particular, I want to contest his allegation that this was a pay or kill proposition. I find it appalling that Senator Richardson should have failed to mention that the client of the doctor had failed to pay his bill for a period of two years. Senator Richardson did not mention this in alleging that the doctor had behaved badly.

  There were 10 requests for payment of one kind or another that were not responded to by this patient. Yet Senator Richardson was prepared to endorse the fact that Mr Knott, the honourable member for Gilmore, described this doctor as not being a fit and proper person to be a doctor. At least, he certainly did not deny what the honourable member for Gilmore had said and appeared to endorse his remarks.

  Most important of all, all the patient had to do was to take or post one of the 10 bills he had received for this same service over two years to the Medicare office, get a cheque made out to the doctor and give it to the doctor in satisfaction of the account. He did not have to pay a cracker himself. All he had to do was get off his backside, go to the Medicare office and provide a Medicare—

Senator Patterson —Or post it.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Or post it—he did not even have to go to the office. This would have been in satisfaction of the account in circumstances where patients have financial problems. This doctor in Nowra—whom I know because he was my anaesthetist when I had a little problem of a hernia some years ago—has invariably accepted a Medicare cheque as payment for patients who have approached him and said, `We have financial difficulties in meeting this bill'.

  In fact, this is what eventually happened. Ten bills and two years after the event, he eventually got off his backside to present a Medicare cheque. Yet here we have Senator Richardson saying that this is a pay or kill situation. This is a disgrace. This patient regarded it as a discretionary bill: if he did not need to pay it, he did not choose to pay it. Frankly, if he does not really need surgery in future—if it is discretionary—I would imagine that, surely, the doctor should be entitled to make the offsetting discretionary choice that he is not available unless his bill is paid.

  The key point is that this patient never, ever sought relief or explained any difficulty either in paying his bill or getting off his backside to get the Medicare rebate cheque and send it to the doctor. There is no suggestion of service not being provided in an emergency. However, the doctor has in fact said that he will rephrase his letter in future to soften the fractured sensibilities of people like Senator Richardson.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.