Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, representing the Minister for Health, Senator Colbeck. Yesterday, TheAustralian reported that doctors, specialists and surgeons are rorting Medicare at record levels to line their own pockets and rip off hardworking taxpayers. They stated that last month a record of $4.5 million in rebates for bogus health services provided to supposedly sick patients was identified by the Professional Services Review for repayment. After recouping $10 million in 2017-18 and $20 million in 2018-19, the Medicare watchdog expects to recoup a further $30 million this financial year. Minister, given these phenomenal rises in bogus rebates claimed and recouped, are the government's increased and welcomed compliance efforts unveiling a rorting crisis in our long-trusted system of Medicare?
Thank you, Senator Bernardi, for the question. Fortunately, largely our doctors do the right thing. Of course, for those who don't do the right thing and who overcharge, we seek to, as you've quite rightly said in your question, recover excess funds that have been taken.
Last year we introduced to the parliament the Health Legislation Amendment (Improved Medicare Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2018 to implement measures announced in the 2017 budget and to support the integrity of Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The bill delivered savings of $103 million over four years, which aligns with the sorts of numbers that you're quoting in your question. Those numbers are based on increased and earlier debt collection figures. The measures in the bill support the integrity of Medicare through improvements to the recovery of arrangements for Medicare debts owed to the Commonwealth.
These improvements will allow compulsory offsetting of future MBS, Medicare Benefits Schedule, payments made to providers on behalf of bulk-billing patients; introduce garnishee arrangements for providers who do not bulk-bill; make administrative arrangements more consistent across the three acts; and deal with businesses' billing approaches that impact on claiming by providers.
Minister, the article reported that a sleep specialist billed the same Medicare item number more than 5,000 times in 12 months to claim $1 million in bogus rebates. A surgeon billed more than 17,000 services and a GP more than 15,000 services in one year, both clocking up around half a million dollars in stolen taxpayers' money. Can the minister shed further light on the nature and patterns of these growing Medicare abuses and the states and communities most prone to such crooked activity?
I think the point that I would make is that we have put in place measures to continue to enforce compliance with the Medicare schedule process. If anyone has specific cases that are being raised, we're happy to hear from them, because we have processes in place that we can undertake to make sure that debt recovery is undertaken, and I've mentioned that in my answer to your primary question. We do have capacity to make reference to the AFP and the Medicare fraud squad within the AFP, which can undertake investigations, and there are processes through which we can continue to work, through the AFP, to recover debts as well.
Thank you, Minister. These doctors are clearly rorting the system and effectively stealing from taxpayers. Can you advise me how many Medicare provider numbers have been removed from these practitioners, or how many have been deregistered as medical practitioners, as a result of investigations and this criminal conduct?