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An Australian Medicare Card is a green coloured plastic card (or light blue for interim cards) which identifies the persons listed on it as eligible for rebates under the Australian Medicare system when they are treated privately by a doctor with a provider number. Doctors who do not have provider numbers do not attract the Medicare rebate, and so the Medicare card cannot be used with such doctors. All permanent residents of Australia are eligible for an Australian "Medicare Card", except for those resident on Norfolk Island or those who are not deemed to be residing in Australia, where the Medicare system does not apply; eligibility is not connected to Australian citizenship. The card lists an individual as well as any members of his or her family he or she chooses to add who are also permanent residents and meet the Medicare definition of dependent. The card must be produced or the Medicare number provided if the Medicare rebate is paid directly to the doctor under the bulk billing system. It is also necessary to provide a Medicare number (although not necessarily show the card) to gain access to the public hospital system to be treated at no cost as a public patient. For non-elective treatment (e.g. Emergency), public hospitals will admit patients without a number/card and resolve Medicare eligibility issues after treatment.
Australian Medicare is administered by Medicare Australia (until late 2005 known as the Health Insurance Commission (HIC)) which also has responsibility for supplying Medicare cards and numbers. Almost every eligible person has a card: in June 2002 there were 20.4 million Medicare card-holders, and the Australian population was less than 20 million at the time (card-holders includes overseas Australians who still have a card).
However the use of the card is limited to consultations with medical practitioners who are eligible for Medicare provider numbers. Such access has been made subject to increasing requirements since the mid 1990s .
The widespread use of the Medicare card means a distinction needs to be drawn between the card and failed proposals for an Australia Card. The Medicare card is used for health care purposes only and cannot be used to track in a database a number of activities. It contains a name and number, and no visible photograph (however, the Tasmanian "Smartcard" version has an electronic image of the cardholder on an embedded chip). Individuals are not legally required to have a Medicare card, to carry it with them, or to produce it on request.
The primary purpose of the Australian Medicare card is to prove Australian Medicare eligibility when seeking Australian Medicare-subsidised care from a medical practitioner or hospital. Legally, the card need not be produced and an Australian Medicare number is sufficient. In practice, most Australian Medicare providers will have policies requiring the card be presented to prevent fraud.
From 2002, a Medicare card must now be shown at a pharmacy when collecting Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication.
The Medicare card is used as a recognised form of ID in opening bank accounts or obtaining a driver's license. On the ‘100 point scale’, on which 100 points of ID are required for proof of identity, a Medicare card is generally 25 points.
The Australian Medicare card linked rebate can only be used with consulting medical practitioners who have been issued with a provider number. Practitioners who are in breach of a contract with the Commonwealth face typically 12 years prohibition on access to a provider. This means that a Medicare Card holder cannot get a rebate from these Medicare practitioners regardless of registration at any (state) board or specialty for that (12) year period.
Australian Medicare cards can be issued to individuals or to families, with a maximum of five names per card. Families with more than five members will have additional names listed on additional cards, while retaining the same card number. Children are listed on their parent's card – a family may be all on one card, or a child may be listed on one parent's card, or both parents' cards, or even in some cases, alone on their own card if their name exceeds a specific number of letters. Children who are wards of the state will be listed on a card with the Department of Children's Services as cardholder. Medicare cards may be used to show a relationship when parents have different surnames to their children.
Individual Australian Medicare cards are generally only issued to people over 15. This is a Medicare Australia policy (not legislation) and there are exceptions for people at boarding schools or away from home. Significantly, this policy may detract from the right of a mature minor to gain confidential medical care. Using their family's Medicare card (and presenting the card) could potentially notify their parents of the consultation, but only if the parents request information about their child's medical claims.
In Tasmania, an enhanced version of the Australian Medicare card, called a "Smartcard", was introduced in 2004 and differs only in that it contains a chip that stores the same data found on the standard Medicare card, and also an optional digital photograph of the cardholder.
From 2008, a new government card, called the "Access Card", was intended to replace both Australian Medicare and up to 17 other similar cards (such as Centrelink benefit and concession cards) to provide an "all-in-one" solution for the user's convenience. The new Australian Government has announced that the Access Card initiative will be dumped.
In English, "Medicare Card" is sometimes used to refer to a provincially-issued healthcare card, officially known by different names.