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Bank fees on Medicare refunds.

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Kelvin Thomson MP

Shadow Minister for Public Accountability Shadow Minister for Human Services

Friday, 2 June 2006

Bank Fees on Medicare Refunds

The four major banks are discussing with Human Services Minister Joe Hockey processing some $17.5 billion in annual Medicare transactions as part of the Government’s Smartcard project.

The discussions involve a fee-per-transaction arrangement, which would enable banks to charge lucrative transaction fees. The Commonwealth Bank has been reported today as saying that the prospect of the bank charging a fee to process Government service transactions was ‘highly attractive’.

I bet it is. But the idea of bank fees for Medicare refunds raises serious questions which Minister Hockey must now answer:

1. Does the Government intend to allow the banks to charge fees to Medicare customers? If so, the Opposition utterly rejects such an idea. Australian families find it hard enough already to meet the cost of health bills and pharmaceuticals without paying bank fees as well.

2. If the Government intends to pay the transaction fees to the banks itself, rather than pass them on to patients, how will this be paid for? Will it lead to a blow-out in the $1.1 billion already allocated to Smartcard? Will it lead to indefinite running costs, and will those running costs be more than the amount the Government believes it can save through Medicare fraud reduction?

3. If the Government intends to pay the banks without blowing the $1.1 billion Smartcard budget, is the plan to move patients out of Medicare offices and into banks instead? Will this lead to the closure of Medicare offices, and will it lead to longer bank queues? Does the Government intend to wind up Medicare Offices as well as Medibank Private?

4. If the banks are to operate the Medicare and Centrelink payments system via Smartcard, how does the Government intend to ensure that the banks are not able to access private medical and welfare histories?

Medicare was established to help keep Australians healthy. Visiting banks increases your stress levels and is bad for your health. What’s the next move? Doctor’s surgeries in bank branches? Bank branches in doctors surgeries?

Minister Hockey should rule out transaction fees and bank visits being part of the Brave New Smartcard World.

Media Contact: Kelvin Thomson: 0419 594 882 Patrick Pantano: 0403 502 071