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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2055

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Has the attention of the Minister for Social Security been drawn to reports that the Hospital Benefits Association in Victoria will provide its subscribers with identity cards and that the transactions of its contributors will be recorded by computer? Does he see this as a parallel to the charge by the medical profession that one of the objectionable features of the Government's health scheme is that participants will be issued with identity cards and their transactions recorded by computer? Will he agree that this action is more desirable when taken by a body responsible to the people - that is, the Government - than when it is taken by a private organisation such as the Hospital Benefits Association?

Mr HAYDEN - It has been well known for some time that the Hospital Benefits Association proposes to distribute these cards amongst its members and the procedures which would be associated with this have been equally well known, that is, the procedures of registering details of contributors to this scheme who draw on or apply for benefits from the scheme. In spite of this, there has been no protest from either the Australian Medical Association or members of the Opposition, some of whom seem to be well briefed spokesmen for at least parts of the medical profession. This is remarkable. But then again, there has been no protest from either of these groups in the past in spite of the fact that most of us who are members of health insurance funds have to carry some sort of membership card which is numbered and which we have to return to the fund when we make an application for medical or hospital benefits. In fact, at present, one of the complaints of certain members of the funds who are aged and in nursing homes and who have a need to draw on the funds for nursing home benefits is that they have to send in their cards and there is a lengthy delay in having the card returned and which, accordingly, causes various types of inconvenience. These records of members of the funds are kept by private funds.

There is no legislative requirement on those funds to maintain secrecy. Indeed, especially in the case of funds where there is manual recording of details of members of the funds, there is open access to this sort of information by a wide range of people. None of this will happen under the program which we are introducing. In fact, not only will there be legislative effect to guarantee the privacy of people where they draw on the funds but also, we have set up a working party comprising people suitably eminent in a number of fields of the community to advise us on the best ways of protecting their privacy. One of the members of the working party is a representative of the Australian Medical Association. It is a shame that the Opposition cannot work up the same fervour in defence of people's rights where private funds are concerned, where there is much more opportunity for abuse and prying and meddling in the medical records of private people than there will ever be under the program which we are introducing and which will have iron-clad guarantees to preserve the individual privacy of members.

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