Doctors attack Defence on healthcare outsourcing

DOCTORS are resisting a $1.3 billion government deal to outsource medical treatment for the military to insurance giant Medibank. They are annoyed at a lack of consultation and potential breaches of patient privacy.

The Australian Medical Association wrote to its members last month warning them ''not to feel pressured'' to sign on with new agreements to treat wounded or ill Defence Force personnel.

Medibank subsidiary Medibank Health Solutions won the lucrative Defence contract in June to provide all medical services for the Australian Defence Force.

The deal is set to begin on October 28 and will include a new central call centre for doctors to refer patients for specialist care with civilian surgeons.

But only specialists who have signed a ''preferred provider'' agreement with Medibank will be used, leading to concern the quality of care could be compromised.

The changes also mean Medibank will pay a lower rate for procedures than under present arrangements in which Defence doctors refer patients directly to local surgeons.

Doctors are confused over what will happen to patients after October 28 should their existing surgeon refuse to sign on with Medibank.

AMA federal president Steve Hambleton said in the letter the doctors' association had not been consulted by Medibank or Defence about the new arrangements nor the cut in fees.

Dr Hambleton said doctors should get legal advice before signing on with Medibank - particularly regarding disclosure of medical records.

Medibank had given a October 5 deadline for doctors to sign on as preferred providers. A spokesman yesterday declined to say how many specialists had agreed to sign on or how many would be required. The number was commercial in confidence.

The military provides free healthcare to all 80,000 uniformed personnel.

But Australian Defence Force Association spokesman Neil James said the decision to privatise the services was eroding their conditions of service and the operational capability of the military.

The privatisation affects only troops in Australia, not those on deployments overseas.

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