“Steady As She Sinks” No Change To Failed Health Legislation – 19 September 1996

The Senate Committee Inquiry report released today on the Carmen Lawrence Health Insurance Reform Legislation was a case of “steady as she sinks – a lost opportunity to save the sinking health care financing ship”, spokesman for the Australian Doctors’ Fund, Mr Stephen Milgate said in Sydney today.

The contentious legislation was reviewed by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee and included extensive submissions from all parts of the health sector. It has recommended no substantial changes to the existing Lawrence Legislation despite its admission that “the Legislation had failed to meet its objectives”.

“Australians must shake their heads in disbelief at a report which recommends no change despite a collapsing public hospital system and escalating private health insurance premiums.”

Mr Milgate said, “the central feature of the Lawrence Legislation (namely 100% hospital cover) had failed to attract any real growth into the private health funds. This feature has also driven up the cost of private health insurance, severely embarrassing the Federal Government’s attempts to provide incentives that would revive the private health insurance numbers.”

“Particularly astounding is the recommendation that contracts between doctors and health funds should proceed despite Senator Sue Knowles stating “that the contracting arrangements provided for in the Act had not been successful”.

“By not recommending that contracts between doctors and health funds be outlawed the Senate Committee has failed to ensure safeguards for Australians against the threat of US style Managed Health Care. As a result, Australians may see US corporations intent on introducing Managed Health Care entering the market and transferring Medicare dollars overseas.”

“The Senate Committee has also recycled an existing provision of the legislation as a recommendation. Namely that doctors seek approval to negotiate in groups from the Australian Competition & Consumers Commission (ACCC). An existing provision that has already proven to be an expensive, unworkable and a one-sided failure.”

“The Senate Committee has offered no relief to health fund contributors from ongoing price increases.”

“It has failed to provide equitable ways and means for doctors and private hospitals to talk to health funds, ie – there are no recommendations of easy mechanisms whereby mutual, uncomplicated and inexpensive agreement processes, transparent to the public, could be entered into between all the parties.”

“Despite advocating informed financial consent for patients the Senate Committee recommends that patients not be allowed access to information about the financial relationship between their treating doctor (contracted to their health fund) and their health fund. This is staggering contradiction of health fund contributors’ rights”, Mr Milgate said.

The Australian Doctors’ Fund said “the Senate’s recommendation that assurances be written into contracts between doctors and health funds (that there would be no clinical intervention between health funds and doctors signing contracts) was a farce. These types of ‘Peter & Wendy’ clauses have never proved to be a safeguard against blatant conflict of interest anywhere else.”

“When he was Opposition Health spokesman, Dr Michael Wooldridge, gave assurances that he would fix the Lawrence Legislation. The Federal Coalition had also opposed the Lawrence Legislation on principle prior to the last Federal Election. The Senate Committee’s recommendations, if adopted by the Government, would be total reversal of the Coalition Government’s previous position.”

“There is still time for the Cabinet to reject the recommendations of the Senate Committee and act decisively to repeal the Lawrence Legislation in total before it’s too late,” Mr Milgate said.