Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Independent review of health providers' accessibility to Medicare card numbers

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Human Services

The Turnbull Government has commissioned a review of the accessibility by health providers of Medicare card numbers.

An online system was introduced in 2009, to further assist GPs, hospitals and other health providers to acquire a Medicare card number when a person presents without a card. In 2010 an enhanced lookup function was also added. The system allows the health provider to acquire a card number on the basis of a name and date of birth. Currently, Health Professionals Online Services (HPOS) is utilised 45,000 times each day.

They can access it through a secure online system or over the existing telephone network.

The system was introduced as a way of ensuring that people in an emergency situation could get treatment immediately even if they did not have their card with them. This was particularly important for vulnerable Australians. The system has had, and continues to have the strong support of the AMA and GP's due to its convenience and ability to provide immediate patient care. It provides an alternative avenue to the existing telephone network for a health professional to identify a patient’s eligibility for Medicare benefits.

The Government wants to ensure that there is increased security in a system which is important to both patients and doctors.

The system, which has not been significantly altered since being brought in 8 years ago, has to be both convenient and utterly secure. The Review team will examine this balance to determine its adequacy in today’s context.

The Review will be led by Professor Peter Shergold. The President of the Australian Medical Association and the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners will also be members of the Review Team. The review will also be supported by a secretariat from the Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Attorney General’s Department. It will consult broadly with stakeholders.

The review follows recent public discussion about an alleged breach related to a small number of Medicare card numbers.

An investigation by the Australia Federal Police is underway.

We re-emphasise that a Medicare card number alone does not provide access to any medical or clinical records.

Medicare cards and Medicare numbers have always been sought by criminals. This review will identify options to improve the security of Medicare numbers while continuing to support the accessibility of medical care.

The review will commence immediately and will report by 30 September, 2017.

It is paramount the public has access to the health care they need, when they need it. The Australian Government has a binding contract with the community to deliver this through the Medicare system.

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