More services facing cutbacks: Medicare, Service NSW

Following an article in The Daily Telegraph on Sunday 25 September, in which the paper claimed that “leaked Medicare documents have revealed patients face long delays for cash claims after the Turnbull government outsourced processing to new centres and closed Medicare shopfronts,” Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King MP, and Acting Shadow Minister for Human Services Senator The Hon Doug Cameron, said face-to-face Medicare claims processing will completely cease in Centrelink offices and Australians will be forced onto already over-stressed postal and online claim queues.

The article reports that “whistle-blower public servants have come forward to warn that patients can expect an end to face-to-face claims and to claim they have been banned from telling patients that their Medicare claims will be sent off-site for processing.”

But the government insists only 20 per cent of claims not lodged online face longer waiting periods, with the overwhelming majority of patients now claiming online.

In response to the claims, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said services for people who are unable to use digital services will remain the same.

He said 82 per cent of claims lodged manually at a service centre are processed within 10 days. “There has been a huge reduction in demand for face-to-face claiming so we are consolidating ‘back of house’ processing work to ensure we provide high quality, consistent services.

“Nationally, 96 per cent of all Medicare claims are lodged electronically — this is saving time for millions of Australians who no longer have to visit a service centre to claim.’’

But Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King MP expressed concern for those on the edges of society: “These are barriers our health system cannot afford – as a recent study showed, many people with chronic health conditions are already being forced to forgo treatment because of the costs of medications and appointments,” she said.

The Australian Department of Human Services currently lists a number of options available for claiming Medicare reimbursement, one of which is the printed Medicare form that may be lodged at Medicare shopfronts, either in person to a staff member or deposited in a drop box at a service centre. It is the loss of these two options, often used by elderly pensioners and those less familiar with, or unable to access, digital services, that are quoted in the Telegraph article as being at greatest risk.

“We were told yesterday in a team huddle that by December there will no longer be any face-to-face Medicare services, customers will only the able to claim digitally or through the service provider,’’ a source is quoted as saying.

“Apparently, we won’t even have a Medicare drop box, the little old ladies will have to fill in a form and post it and we know how much mail already goes missing. Who knows if they’ll get their forms through?’’

The Medicare Public Branch confirmed in an email to staff that the changes will include an end to on-site processing and trained Medicare staff being asked to field Centrelink questions on welfare.


Service NSW hours to be cut back

From Monday 26 September Service NSW outlets across the state have had their opening hours cut, expectedly making it much harder for people to access them outside work hours.

In an effort to cut costs, Premier Mike Baird is winding back the hours Service NSW centres will open, creating serious fears that staff lay-offs will occur.

In June, the NSW Budget revealed Service NSW is already understaffed by 112 full-time employees – despite raking in $91 million for the government, according to Clayton Barr MP, the NSW Shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property.

At the time of the establishment of the Service NSW network, the NSW Government in July 2013 said: “The new centres will be open from 7am to 7pm during the week and from 9am to 3pm on Saturday – making it easier for people to do their business with the government at a time that suits them.”

Following this announcement, around half of all the motor registry sites across NSW closed down. But from Monday 26 September 2016, just one Service NSW centre will stay open until 7pm on weeknights at Wynyard in Sydney’s CBD. Five others will stay open until 7pm on Thursday nights, and some will stop opening on Saturdays altogether. Interestingly, the Service NSW website currently contains confusing information, showing the contradictory old and new times for some registries, on the very same web page.

The Services Minister has provided little to no communication on the new opening hours for the other 58 Service NSW centres, leaving many in the community confused about when they can access them, according to Clayton Barr MP.

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