Page 262 - Week 01 - Thursday, 14 February 2008

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Health—territory and federal responsibilities

MS MacDONALD: My question, through you, Mr Speaker, is to Ms Gallagher in her capacity as Minister for Health. Minister, could you please update the Assembly on the responsibilities of the ACT government and the commonwealth government in relation to private and public health care in the territory?

MS GALLAGHER: I thank Ms MacDonald for her question. The answer that I will be providing to this question is particularly for the benefit of my opposition spokesperson who, in the adjournment debate, again indicated her lack of understanding of how the private and public health systems interact and their separate areas of responsibility.

In fact, in a recent article in the City News—an extremely flattering article, I thought, in the City News—Mrs Burke said that her job is to simplify health so that people can understand it. I think it has got a little too simple or maybe a little too hard. But I am going to make it quite simple so that that message can then get out to the Canberra community because I think maybe we have made it too simple.

If we start at the beginning, the principles which underpin the current arrangements in our national health system have been in place since 1983, which has given us around 24 years to get a handle on things.

Mr Pratt: You keep hiding that information.

MR SPEAKER: Mr Pratt, I warn you.

MS GALLAGHER: The first Medicare agreements began in 1983 and, while the names have changed—they are now called the Australian health care agreements—the principles remain the same. Under the agreements, all Australians are guaranteed free access to public hospital services. This includes inpatient, outpatient and emergency department. This access is based on clinical need only. There are no tests and there is no capacity for a public hospital to refuse access to care for anyone who needs it. We uphold that part of the bargain, and the commonwealth provides some funding to support our hospital services.

But these agreements do not cover visits to your GP or visits to a specialist working in their private practice. The name of the insurance which covers GPs and some non-admitted medical services is known as Medicare. This is totally different to the notion of a public patient within the public hospital system.

Medicare was first introduced as Medibank, under the Whitlam government, in 1974 and subsequently reintroduced in 1983. Medicare provides financial support to Australians who need to access services from clinicians operating in private practices, whether or not these clinicians provide services at public hospitals.

In short, GPs and specialists working in their own private practice are private providers. They are not subject to the ACT’s public health authorities. They are free to accept or decline to see patients. Members of the public can visit these specialists

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