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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 229

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 1 December 2004:

(1)   Given that Medicare benefits are paid for testing for other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C antibody testing and for other sexually transmitted diseases including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes simplex, why are Medicare benefits not available for HIV antibody testing.

(2)   Is the Minister aware that the Draft National HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Strategy 2005-2008 recommends that the anomaly between funding arrangements for HIV antibody testing and testing for other blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases should be reconsidered.

(3)   Given that comprehensive affordable testing is essential in order to determine the extent and location of HIV infection in the community, and that rates of HIV diagnoses are on the increase in Australia, demonstrating a 17 per cent increase in a 12 month period, what plans does the Government have to review the current HIV testing funding arrangements.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   When the HIV antibody test first became available, there was an urgent need for a coordinated and centrally controlled testing process to rapidly enable Australia’s blood supplies to become safe, and all infected but clinically well people to be quickly identified. For these reasons, it was decided that HIV antibody testing should be undertaken in the non-Medicare benefits funded state and territory government public laboratories with state and territory governments not charging patients for this service. The Australian Government provides funding to states and territories through the Public Health Outcome Funding Agreements (PHOFAs) for this purpose.

(2)   Yes.

(3)   The figure quoted of an increase in a 12 month period is not the most recent data. There was a reduction in the annual number of new HIV diagnoses (adjusted for multiple reporting) in Australia, from 831 cases in 2002 to 782 cases in 2003. This reduction is in contrast with the previous year’s increase of 20% (from 693 cases in 2001). The Minister is aware the issue of Medicare benefits funding of HIV antibody testing was raised in the draft National HIV/AIDS and STIs Strategy and is being considered in the context of finalisation and implementation of that Strategy.