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Tuesday, 30 May 1972
Page: 3293

Mr Kennedy asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:

(1)   Has any research been undertaken by the Department of Health, by any other Government body, or by any body commissioned by the Government into the reasons why so few people enrol in each section of the subsidised health benefits scheme.

(2)   If so, what are the findings of this research and what action is being taken on these findings.

(3)   What sum has been (a) allocated and (b) spent on advertising the subsidised health benefits scheme since a review of the scheme was ordered as reported in The Age of 23 September 1971.

(4)   Will he itemise the way in which any money has been spent on advertising the scheme since 23rd September 1971.

(5)   Has any other action been taken to enrol more eligible people in the scheme; if so, on what dates was this action taken.

Dr Forbes - The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1)   and (2) I am concerned that the number of persons who have been enrolling in health insurance organizations so as to receive the benefits under the

Subsidised Health Benefits Plan is markedly less than the number estimated to be eligible for enrolment. I have directed my Department to review the detailed administration of the Plan with the aim of simplifying enrolment procedures. At the same time, it must be appreciated that the Plan provides benefits towards the costs of medical and hospital treatment and a large proportion of those eligible for its benefits only apply for assistance when they fall ill and seek medical or hospital treatment. It follows that the section of the population that is eligible for benefits is very much larger than the number who have actually joined health insurance funds so as to receive benefits.

In promoting the Plan, it has been found that it is desirable to support paid advertising and the distribution of publicity pamphlets and posters by other measures and it is now planned to do this on a national scale by seeking the co-operation of persons and organizations actually in contact with potential beneficiaries.

This approach has recently been tested by my Department in a pilot project which ran for four weeks in the Wollongong area. The campaign involved extensive advertising in all media, coverage in news bulletins, editorials, T.V. programmes, etc., and the voluntary support from a large number of Wollongong people and organisations, in contact with migrants and low income earners, was enlisted. These measures resulted in a 200 per cent increase in the number of applications lodged in Wollongong for subsidised health benefits and I feel that a permanent residue of awareness has been left with the people in the area which should ensure that the number of applications received in future will be higher than before the campaign.

No outside body has been commissioned by the Government to undertake research as to why more people are not being attracted to the Plan. However, recommendations and ideas put to the Department by interested organizations are being studied closely and, of course, my Department conducts its own inquiries.

(3)   No specific amount was allocated for publicising the Subsidised Health Benefits Plan from 23rd September 1971 to date. An amount of $32,000 was allocated for the 1971-72 financial year. Expenditure on publicity for the Plan from 23rd September 1971 to date has been $9,110 and other advertising and publicity commitments have been undertaken to the level of the 1971-72 allocation.

(4)   Money so far spent on advertising the Subsidised Health Benefits Plan since 23rd September 1971, wasfor:


(5)   Arrangements are being made with the Department of Social Services so that within the next few months a printed insert, outlining the Plan in simple terms, is included with child endowment cheques sent out by that Department.

Discussions are continuing with the Department of Immigration which has been developing arrangements aimed at increasing migrants' knowledge of the facilities provided and, in consequence, increasing their participation in the Subsidised Health Benefits Plan.

My Department is currently considering, in conjunction with the Australian Council of Social Service, specific ways in which both bodies might co-operate in further publicising the Plan, particularly through the dissemination of information to social workers. Within the next few months it is planned to:

(a)   offer a series of articles to each State Council of Social Service for newsletter publication;

(b)   ask each State Council to arrange seminars on Subsidised Health Benefits, probably during lunch hours;

(c)   prepare a Subsidised Health Benefits information kit, containing pamphlets, a poster and a comprehensive list of questions and answers, for circulation to member organizations of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Other action being taken by my Department includes the production, in ten foreign languages, of the pamphlet'Help With Health Benefits' which is at present only available in English. Action has also been initiated to advertise the Plan in 36 foreign language newspapers which circulate throughout Australia.

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