The Federal Government is reportedly considering a plan that would see parts of Medicare privatised and sensitive medical information handed over to private companies.
In the lead up to budget in May, it appears the Government is considering outsourcing Medicare payment processing and other services, including pharmaceutical and aged-care benefits, to private companies.
Those companies would then administer claims and payments and determine eligibility for payments — a change that would give them access to sensitive private information.
Doctors would also have to give the companies access to their records, The West Australian reports.
Currently, Medicare is administered by the Department of Health, which handles around 344 million claims each year in addition to 211 million pharmaceutical benefit claims.
Any change that gives access to those records to a private company will require rigorous regulation.
The plan is by no means a certainty. It has not been signed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but the speculation is that it could be a key feature of Treasurer Scott Morrison’s first budget.
The plan could potentially deliver $50 million-plus in savings.
Companies that have reportedly shown interest include Australia Post, eftpos providers, Telstra and the big banks. A number of foreign multinationals may also want to bid for the work.
Projected savings come from an assumption that the private sector would be faster and more efficient than the public service, which relies on an ageing computer system. Updating those systems would likely incur a cost in the short-term.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed the idea this morning and vowed to make it an election issue.
“The Liberals are always running around attacking Medicare,” Shorten said.
“They did it in the 2014 budget, they did it in the 2015 budget and it looks like Malcolm Turnbull’s no different to Tony Abbott they just want to flog off Medicare and privatise services.
”My message to Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberals is ‘hands off Medicare’. The Australian people love their Medicare and you have no right to trash it.”
In 2014, the same year as the Government’s much-maligned GP co-payment was first flagged, then-Minister for Health Peter Dutton made a similar proposal, claiming it would reduce red-tape for doctors and assist in downsizing the public service.
At the time, Opposition health spokeswoman, Catherine King, said patients “shouldn’t have to worry about their most sensitive medical and financial details being handed over to a private company”.