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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1783

Senator GUILFOYLE (VICTORIA) - Yesterday I asked the Minister for Health a question about health services for Aborigines and he said that he would respond to the question today. I now restate my question: Are any specific provisions made by the Government to ensure that Aborigines are not deprived of medical services through inability to pay contributions to the health funds, and are the benefits available under the subsidised health benefits plan made widely known to Aboriginals?

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - I acknowledge that yesterday I was asked that question by the honourable senator and I said that I would get some further information. The Commonwealth Government introduced the subsidised health benefits plan to ensure that persons, including Aborigines, in difficult financial circumstances do not suffer hardship as a result of medical and hospital costs. I emphasise that there is no discrimination against Aborigines on the ground that they cannot pay medical or hospital fees. The subsidised health benefits .plan provides that if an Aboriginal head of a family is a member of a fund, both he and his family qualify for the benefits in the normal way. If an Aboriginal head of a family is not a member of a fund and his income does not exceed $46.50 a week, he is entitled to join the fund without payment of contributions. If he does so, the subsidised health benefit plan guarantees that hospital benefits to the level of charges for public ward accommodation in public hospitals and full medical benefits will be paid by the Commonwealth through the fund.

With the assistance of responsible persons, who usually will be those persons performing the services, or their representatives, it should be possible for the forms to be completed without undue hardship. It is known that there have been problems in enrolling some of those who could well receive assistance. Particular problems have arisen with Aborigines, especially in Western Australia, but action has been taken by my Department, in co-operation with the Department of Social Services, to effect improvement to the arrangements in that State. Apart from the special situation in Western Australia, certain general improvements to the plan introduced by my Department in November 1971, including the introduction of simplified forms of application and entitlements and other procedures, should also facilitate the enrolment of Aborigines.

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