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Thursday, 18 February 1971

Senator MULVIHILL asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice: (I.) How credible is the statement in a letter received by myself from the Minister concerning medical benefits organisations, that'the maximum should be returned to the contributor by way of benefits', andthat Tables have been set so that excess reserves will be reduced over a reasonable period'. when -

(a)   many subscribers who have never made a medical benefit claim, despite long-term fund membership, still had to increase premiums to be eligible for full medical benefits; and

(b)   the only visible sign of specific projects to use up mammoth reserves is a vague proposal by the Hospitals Contribution Fund to aid its members when they reach 70 years or more and enter convalescent homes.

(2)   How do thousands of. Hospital Contribution Fund members who have not made claims obtain any return from the vast sums the Fund has accumulated over the past 10 years.

(3)   Will consideration be given in the event of further increases in membership fees of hospital funds to ensure that members who have made no claims will not be denied economic justice as occurred when the Hospital Contribution Fund recently increased its premiums.

Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN - The Minister for Health hasprovided the following answer to the honourable senator's question: (l), (2) and (3) Firstly, I would like to point out that the medical and hospital benefits schemes are based on the insurance principles whereby the health risk of participants is spread over the whole of the membership of an organisation and conforms to the principle of the strong supporting the weak. Any proposal that 'good risk' members should pay a lower rate of contribution than other less fortunate members would tend to break down the community rating principles and would not be supported.

I re-iterate my statements to Parliament on 4 March 1970 and my second reading speech on the introduction of the 1970 amendments to the National Health Act, that it is the Government's firm policy that contribution rates will be set at a level which takes into consideration the reserves held by the health insurance organisations. Already action has been taken in this direction in that the rates set for the new medical table are expected to achieve a reduction in the medical fund reserves. In relation to hospital funds, similar action will be undertaken immediately the current discussions with the States on the Nimmo recommendations relating to hospital benefitsare concluded.

Finally,I would add that the Government's intention in the matter is reflected in section 73B (c) of the National Health Act introduced in 1970 which imposes a condition on all registered organisations requiring them to comply with any direction given by the Minister with regard to rates of contributions payable by contributors.

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