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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22416

Electronic Medicare Claims Announcement Mosman Medical Practice

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/08/2006

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 22416

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, I would first of all like to thank the partners of the Mosman Practice for allowing us in on this beautiful Sunday morning in the wonderful electorate of Warringah to use their premises to launch this very exciting new opportunity which demonstrates that the Coalition is the best friend that Medicare has ever had.

I think everybody is aware that the lunch hour is often consumed in queuing in a Medicare office to get a Medicare rebate. We all get rather frustrated with the form filling that's required in relation to getting your Medicare rebate. And what we're announcing this morning is that next year there will be a scheme whereby people can effectively, by producing and swiping their Medicare and credit cards, they can effectively pay their bill and set in train a process whereby within 24 hours their bank account will be credited with their Medicare rebate. It's literally a case of swipe and you're off. And that in one go will mean that 80,000 Australians a day, many of them will not have to queue at Medicare offices to get their refunds.

I want to thank people from, first and foremost of course my two colleagues Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey who have worked together to devise the scheme and I'm going to ask Joe, who is an expert on these things to explain it. I'd like to thank the Australian Medical Association. Mukesh Haikerwal, the President of the AMA is here today and I welcome him. I welcome representatives of the Rural Doctors Association, and I want to thank the medical profession for its cooperation. I know that the banks, and there's a representative of one of the banks here today who I think is going to help us with the demonstration, and they are all part and parcel of a process of making it even easier for people to be involved in the Medicare system.

Medicare is a system that is well entrenched in the Australian community. It's a system that is overwhelmingly supported by Australians of all age groups. We now have bulk billing levels which are higher than they have been for many years and as a result of the Government's bulk billing incentives for doctors, bulk billing levels have risen for nine consecutive quarters and they're arriving at 75 per cent in the March quarter of 2006. There was a time only a couple of years ago when alarm was being expressed about the decline in the bulk billing rates. But as a result of the incentives the Government has introduced that trend has been dramatically reversed all over the country and it's now back to a level of 75 per cent. And that is a very high bulk billing rate in anybody's language. In some parts of the country of course it is over 95 per cent.

All of these things flow from the Government's very strong commitment to Medicare and what I'm announcing today, and it will come into operation next year, there will be a tender process. And Mr Hockey will have something to say about that. But this will simply mean that you will no longer have to queue up to get a Medicare refund, you no longer have to wait to get a cheque through the post. You can do it all in the doctor's surgery. One swipe and you're off and that essentially is what is going to happen. And I think it is, in the electronic IT age, it is a much needed and very desired, in the eyes of some perhaps, even a long overdue change and step forward.

And I am very proud to have the opportunity with my two colleagues to announce it and I'd like to invite the Ministers to have something to say about the detail. They're the experts on it, and I'll hand over to them.

MINISTER ABBOTT:

Well ladies and gentlemen it's a pleasure to be here with the Prime Minister and with my friend Joe Hockey, the Minister for Human Services. Thanks to Dr Malcolm Parmenter for opening up your practice to us this morning. Thanks to Mukesh Haikerwal for representing the AMA here this morning. Dr Michael Kidd, representing the Royal Australian College of General Practice, and Kate Carnell from the Australian Divisions of General Practice.

The fact that we have the three leaders of general practice here with us today shows how important this measure is, and I really think it's about trying to bring the practice of medicine fully into the 21st Century. For as long as anyone can remember, Australian doctors, including Australian GPs, have been at the cutting edge clinically. It's important that we are at the cutting edge administratively, and that's why I see this as such a significant thing.

I have to say that almost my first scripted speech as Minister for Health was about health IT. I gave that speech, from memory, back in October of 2003. Progress since then has not been as fast as I would like, but I have to say, once Joe Hockey started taking over this, things went much quicker Joe. So it's great to have a Minister who's been able to keep his eye on particular ball, rather than a Minister who's been distracted by many other very important things.

I think this new swipe and go system is going to be great for patients. I also think it's going to be good for doctors, because as doctors often tell me, if you are bulk billing you have to wait up to two weeks to get your money. This means that they will get their money within 24 hours, just as patients will get their money within 24 hours without the need to queue up at a Medicare office.

So I think this is all good news. This is all good news. It's good for patients, it's good for doctors, and I think it sends the right signal to the general public about the increasing sophistication of our health system generally. And I'm delighted to welcome the Minister most responsible for it, Joe Hockey to the podium.

MINISTER HOCKEY:

Thanks mate. Prime Minister and special guests, this is a very important announcement. It completely changes the way Medicare can be claimed. In rural areas patients have to wait an average 79 days to get their money back from Medicare. In metropolitan areas, it's an average of about 24 days to get their money back from Medicare. The average cost to the patient of going into a Medicare office is about $10 and that doesn't include the cost of tolls, or the rising cost of fuel or anything else like that. So this makes a significant difference to individuals and to families.

As the Prime Minister said, 80,000 people every day queue up in a Medicare office, this represents the end of that system, even though there will still be a choice for people in that regard. What it means is that, as we'll see with the display, a patient simply pays for the transaction if it is a patient-pay transaction. If it's a bulk bill transaction all they do is hand over their Medicare card. The Medicare card is swiped in the EFTPOS device, all is done. Doctors will be rebated within 24 hours. Currently doctors are rebated up to 14 days for bulk bill claims. So this means a massive boost to doctors and doctors' practices, where they don't have to muck around with cash flow problems, collecting forms, and a few of the staff will tell you a bit more about that afterwards.

For patients, it means they get the money, if they use their EFTPOS card, they get the money in their account straight away. So they pay for the transaction if they are going to pay. They swipe their Medicare card and then they swipe their EFTPOS card, the money goes straight into their bank account, don't need to go to a Medicare Office at all.

We believe it will also provide us with a great opportunity in providing improved service levels for families, but also help to reduce fraud, and it is a very secure system. The EFTPOS system deals with billions of dollars each day and millions of transactions each day. The privacy of the individual will be absolute. We will certainly make sure that all the encryption codes are there, that's why this program will be delivered within the next 12 months. We want to make sure the encryptions are right, the privacy protections are right, and that the system will work from day one.

It will be an open system in so far as all the banks that want to participate can participate. The average cost to Medicare and to the taxpayer of processing a claim across the counter is $3.50 per transaction. So with this, we expect the cost to the taxpayer will be a matter of cents. So there will be a significant saving to taxpayers as well.

The next obvious question is what happens to the Medicare offices? The Medicare offices already have a significantly expanded role. In the last 12 months we've rolled out family services to more than 200 Medicare offices, so people can now go into their Medicare office to claim their Family Tax Benefit, their Childcare Benefit, the Baby Bonus and a range of other services. The Medicare offices will, once they haven't got that load of people coming in to claim their Medicare back. The Medicare offices will start to focus on aged pensions and a range of other services, face to face services to families and a range of other people to help to make sure that their interaction with the Government is much smoother.

The Medicare offices will also be a key point for registration for the new access card which will launch in 2008. So they will have plenty of work to keep them busy, but at the same time all the opportunities to claim Medicare will be there for customers. The existing 23 channels, plus this new EFTPOS channel, which I think will be a tremendous success.

[ends]

Transcript 22416