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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1923

Senator Baume asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:

(   1 ) Does the Minister for Social Security still hold the view that bulk billing of medical fees by doctors is an essential ingredient in the Government's proposed national health scheme.

(2)   Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient numbers of doctors will co-operate to ensure that bulk billing is a feasible proposition.

(3)   What alternative does the Minister propose if sufficient doctors will not co-operate.

Senator Wheeldon - The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows: (1-3) The Minister for Social Security has not expressed the view the honourable senator attributes to him. The Government's policy on 'direct' or 'bulk' billing is set out in paragraphs 3.15 to 3.22 of the White Paper titled 'The Australian Health Insurance Program', which was tabled in the Senate by the Minister then representing the Minister for Social Security (Senator Douglas McClelland) on 13

November, 1973. The three billing methods which will be available are:

(i)   Billing of the patient, who pays the doctor and then claims benefits. (ii.) Billing of the patient, who submits the unpaid account and receives the appropriate benefits in the form of a cheque payable to the doctor.

(iii)   Assignment by the patient to the doctor of the benefit for a particular service where the doctor is prepared to accept the benefit as full payment for the service. The doctor would then claim the appropriate benefits and the patient would not have to pay anything.

The Government believes that the assignment of benefit or direct billing' method should be available to the patients of those doctors who are willing to adopt it and that the method has advantages in terms of convenience, prompt payment and expense reduction which will appeal to doctors. The assignment of benefit' method is particularly important for low income patients and for pensioners who meet the means test applied for the purpose of the Pensioner Medical Service. In continuance of the current policy and arrangements whereby such pensioners can receive medical services without charge, the Government will ask all medical practitioners to make this arrangement for every pensioner who produces a Pensioner Medical Service entitlement card and not to make any charge to the pensioner. An exception applies in the case of unreferred specialist services. The Government is confident that the sense of responsibility of the great majority of doctors can be relied upon to make the system work for the benefit of pensioners, as is the case of the Pensioner Medical Service. The Government holds the view that 'direct billing' is important in respect of those persons who would find it difficult to lodge claims themselves or to pay anything for the service due to their financial circumstances. However, doctors are free to choose the methods of billing in respect of all their patients, including pensioners and low income earners, and there is no direction as to which method they should use. Doctors' freedom to choose their billing methods is quite clearly stated in the White Paper and has often been repeated since. If the majority of doctors do not use the 'direct billing' method, the alternative is that they will bill their patients as currently generally applies.

Visit by Minister for Social Security to New Zealand: Report (Question No. 202)

Senator Baume asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:

(   1 ) Will the Minister for Social Security have tabled in the Senate a report of his most recent visit to New Zealand to study the national health scheme of that country.

Senator Wheeldon - The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question: 1 studied a number of welfare matters while in New Zealand last year. I do not propose to table any report.

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