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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1596

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - Mr Speaker,this evening I wish to draw to your attention and to the attention of the House the added burdens that are being imposed by the present Government on young families of this country and in particular young families in South Australia. These burdens are being imposed in many directions on young families seeking to establish homes, to buy them, to build them, to set them up and to bring up young children. They are being badly hit by inflation, by rising interest rates and by rising taxes that bear upon them as a result of the illusion of added or increased money incomes. But there is another area in which young families in South Australia are bearing a particular burden. It is well known to this House that there has been much controversy over the question of doctors' fees. The Minister of the Australian Government in charge cf this matter, without seeking the professional advice of an expert committee, arbitrarily determined that the increase in fees that he would approve would be an increase of 10 per cent. The Labor Premier of South Australia, on his own initiative but with the approval of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), appointed the Prices Commissioner in that State to examine doctors' fees. The Prices Commissioner, with some experience in the examination of prices, went into the matter. He relied, in the main, upon information supplied by the Australian Government - information which has subsequently been proved to be incorrect in the extent of $10m on one line and other amounts of so far undisclosed errors. But the Prices Commissioner, having examined the matter on the information that was available to him, brought down a report. In that report he recommended that the fee should not be raised by more than 15 per cent. He furthermore recommended that in the case of a general practitioner charge for a confinement the fee could be raised from $40 to $60. He made no recommendation with regard to the fee charged for confinements by specialists.

The benefit organisations, seeking to provide insurance cover for their contributors, made an application to the Minister for

Social Security (Mr Hayden) seeking hi? approval to an increase in their premiums to enable them to pay benefits to cover the increased charges which Mr Baker, the South Australian Prices Commissioner, had recommended to be appropriate. The Minister for Social Security refused the request. As a consequence, young families expecting children are now faced with an added burden. They are faced with a general practitioner confinement fee of $60 as approved by the Prices Commissioner. Because of the ceiling placed by the Minister for Social Security upon the benefits that can be paid by an organisation, when a claim is lodged with a benefit organisation it is able to reimburse the insured patient only to the extent of $35. The absurdity of this situation is that if one visits a specialist who charges $80 - the approved fee - and subsequently lodges a claim for a refund from the benefit organisation and the government benefit, one receives $75, which represents a net charge of $5 to the patient. But if, as is the case with 85 per cent of those people seeking medical assistance on their confinement, one goes to a general practitioner, that general practitioner can charge the Baker price of $60. If one lodges a claim for a refund one receives $35 - a net charge to the contributor of $25. This is an indirect form of placing an added burden on young families which the Government indicated it would assist when seeking election prior to 2 December 1972.

I draw this matter to the attention of the House this evening and ask that the Minister for Social Security once again look at this question. If the recommendations of Mr

Baker, the Prices Commissioner in South Australia, are, as he claimed, the recommendations of an expert, will he ensure that the Government contribution is such that added burdens are not placed on young families in South Australia? If the Minister will not provide money to enable the difference to be made up out of government resources, will he grant approval to the benefit organisations in South Australia to increase their premiums so that the burden on young families, who seek general practitioner attendance on confinements, can be reduced from $25 to $5, as is the case now if a young mother seeks specialist treatment? Question resolved in the affirmative.

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