What the Medicare changes mean

A cornerstone of the Medicare changes proposed by the Federal Government is a new “safety net” to prevent patients' medical costs getting out of hand as bul billing decreases. Depending on a person's income and the number of his/her dependents, the Government will pay 80 per cent of any medical bills not refunded by Medicare once these reach a certain threshold. For low and middle income families the threshold is $500, for others it is $1,000. Each individual must register with the Health Insurance Commission which will record all out-of-pocket medical expenses. Once the threshold is reached the HIC reimburses the individual for all further medical bills up to 80 per cent of the fee-for-service.

People eligible for the lower threshold safety net include all households receiving Family Tax Benefit (A). This cuts out at $85,700 for households with one child, $92,637 for households with two children and $99,572 for three children. The safety net benefits will operate from March 2004 but all expenses incurred from January 1 will count towards the threshold. Expenses included in the safety net are all GP and specialist consultations, pathology tests, X-rays, radiotherapy, Pap smears and psychiatry. Out-of-pocket hospital expenses are not included. For more information phone 1800 011 163 or visit the web site at www.health.gov.au.