Monday, September 17, 2018

Bid to strip rort doctors’ cars, houses

Doctors suspected of rorting Medicare could lose their luxury houses and cars, under a dramatic escalation of compliance efforts tipped to raise tens of millions of dollars a year for the federal government.

The Department of Health has asked the Australian Federal Police whether the Proceeds of Crime Act — commonly used to restrain the assets of drug dealers, money launderers and fraudsters — could help it to deal with errant doctors.

The department has often struggled to recoup more than 30 per cent of the Medicare ­rebates it could prove were misused but was recently given new powers, including the ability to act against doctors who refused to co-operate.

Utilising the Proceeds of Crime Act would be likely to ­reverse the onus of proof, and ­require the doctor to argue they did not deserve to have their ­assets restrained or seized to repay Medicare rebates.

A department spokeswoman confirmed the AFP had been asked for advice on how assets could be confiscated and sold to clear debts. The Proceeds of Crime Act has been used for a range of assets including real ­estate and commercial property, share portfolios, luxury cars, jewellery, motorcycles, light planes, jetskis, yachts and motor boats, artwork and other collectibles.

“The Department of Health has recently begun working with AFP to help identify matters where POCA could be well utilised,” the department spokeswoman said.

It was unclear whether the act could be used only against the holder of a Medicare provider number or also against their ­employer. The AFP did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2016-17, the department recorded up to $29 million worth of debts against doctors and other healthcare providers but recouped only about $13m of that. At the time, Medicare was paying out $22 billion in benefits, and health officials suggested Australia was below the international benchmark of 1 per cent of expenditure raised as debts and recovered.

The Professional Services Review, a peer-review agency that acts on referrals from Medicare, often deals with doctors administratively, negotiating agreements where individuals voluntarily pay back some money. It can refer suspected fraud to police, where a conviction could lead to civil ­action to recover government funds, however such action is rare.

In 2016-17, the largest repayment negotiated by the PSR was $1.1m, however last financial year a consultant sleep and respiratory physician agreed to repay $2m, a nuclear medicine specialist $1.1m, an ophthalmologist $750,000 and another sleep and respiratory physician $730,000.

The nature of current arrangements means the published Medicare debts are only a fraction of the amount the department suspects to have been misused.

In the 2017-18 budget, amid ­efforts to make health spending more sustainable, the government announced plans to ramp up compliance efforts and recoup an additional $103.8m over four years. New legislation came into effect in July, including tougher record-keeping requirements and the power to order the provision of documents.

More than 87,000 people are on the immigration watchlist because they left debts to the commonwealth, including for health services they obtained while in Australia despite not being eligible for Medicare. The list would also be likely to include overseas-trained doctors who left the country with unresolved Medicare issues.


Private education spending in Australia soars ahead of other countries

Because Australian families send 40% of their teenagers to private schools

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released on Tuesday night its annual education at a glance report, a major compendium of statistics measuring the state of education across the world.

The report found Australia is among the highest contributors to education spending in the world, at about 6% of gross domestic product.

But it found the proportion of public money spent on primary, high school and vocational education decreased significantly between 2005 and 2015.

By 2015 the share of private sources of non-tertiary education made up 19% of overall spending, the most of any advanced economy and double the OECD average of 8%.

At the same time, the government’s share of total expenditure on non-tertiary education declined from 73% to 66%. The report also found that in Australia, expenditure on non-tertiary education as a share of GDP decreased by 10% over the five year period between 2010 and 2015.

In Australia, private schools are funded through a mixture of parent fees, donations and per-student contributions from states and the Commonwealth.

Correna Haythorpe, the head of the Australian Education Union, said the report showed the “cost burden” of education funding was being shifted away from the government.

“This OECD report shows public expenditure on education in Australia is already well below the OECD average of 11% of public expenditure, and falling rapidly,” she said.

“The report shows that government policies have led to a significant shift over time in how education is funded. That shifts the cost burden from the government to the community.”

According to the report, global eduction funding has suffered as a result of the global financial crisis.

While public funding to education globally started to increase in 2010, it did so at a slower pace than GDP. Across OECD countries, total average expenditure on education at all levels decreased by 4.1% as a percentage of GDP.

“The effects of the global economic crisis that began in 2008 are currently reflected in the adjustments of public budgets and, therefore, in the expenditure on educational institutions across all levels of education,” the report stated.

In the university sector, private funding before public transfers – money given to the private sector through tuition or student subsidies, for example – accounts for 37% of all expenditure. Only the UK has a higher proportion of private university funding.

After public transfers, private expenditure accounts for 62% of the expenditure on tertiary education compared to the OECD average of 31%.

The AEU said it was concerned about findings on teacher workload.

The report found that in 2017 the net teaching time for Australian primary teachers per year was 865 hours, compared to the OECD average of 778 hours. Upper secondary teachers taught 797 hours, it found, compared to the OECD average of 655.

“Australian teachers are teaching larger classes and working significantly more hours than the OECD average, which is a clear indication of resource shortages,” Haythorpe said.

“When schools can provide extra staff, they can address larger classes and provide extra support for students who need it.”

The report also found gender differences in the labour market remained “significant” in Australia.

In the last decade, tertiary attainment of 25-34 year-olds in Australia had “increased significantly”, reaching 52% in 2017.

That increase has been especially pronounced among women. Between 2007 and 2017, the share of 25-34 year-old women with tertiary education increased from 46% to 59%, above the OECD average of 50%. In 2016, half of the new entrants to doctoral programs were women.

In the same period the share of tertiary attainment among young men increased from 35% to 45%.


Aged care has 'not kept pace': Providers welcome inquiry

Australia's biggest aged care companies are calling on the royal commission into the $20 billion sector to provide clarity on how businesses and service providers can keep pace with burgeoning demand as the population ages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the inquiry into the sector following a string of horrific revelations of elderly abuse and neglect that have shattered public faith in the system.

Chief executive of ASX-listed Estia Health, Norah Barlow, has welcomed the royal commission, noting the "enormous responsibility" on providers to care for the elderly. Skyrocketing complaints about the sector, and critical care failures in 2017 at now-closed state-government run nursing home Oakden, fuelled the calls for a probe into the sector.

Last month a former employee at Estia, which has 68 facilities across Australia, was given a 17-month prison sentence with six months non-parole after assaulting a resident in Sydney's Epping in 2017.

At the time, Ms Barlow said there should be a national register to "identify people who should not be working in aged care" including where they worked, for how long, whether they were dismissed and the circumstances of the dismissal.

A spokesman for mutual company Australian Unity, which provides aged care and other services nationally, said the company "welcomes measures that help improve access to, and quality of, care across this sector" in particular any focus on addressing a "looming shortfall in aged care workers".

The Productivity Commission estimates 1 million workers will be needed by 2050 to service the 3.5 million Australians expected to need aged care help. Currently, about 1.3 million Australians access aged care services annually, with 240,000 people in residential care.

Aged care industry group Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said in a statement the industry was "absolutely committed to working to eliminate the risk of failures and to continuously improve standards of care, to ensure that the aged care system meets the
changing needs and expectations of older Australians".

“We have repeatedly told government that the aged care system settings have not kept pace with the increase in demand for care and services, driven by the growing numbers of older Australians in our communities," Mr Rooney said.

Non-profit companies, private-equity owned Allity, and major listed companies like Regis Aged Care, a 1990s-founded company that had a $1.1 billion sharemarket debut in 2014, and Japara Healthcare, are expected to be among those scrutinised.

Archer Capital-owned Allity chief executive David Armstrong was unwilling to comment on Sunday, saying the company was still gathering its thoughts after the announcement.

Retirement villages are expected to be excluded under the terms of the royal commission, as they fall under state and territory jurisdiction, which includes companies such as Aveo Group, Lendlease and Stockland. Retirement villages often include the provision of aged care services by third-parties, and it is likely this will be included in the probe.

A joint Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation in 2017 found Aveo engaged in practices like churning residents, fee gouging, and misleading marketing promises, such as safety and emergency services.

The Property Council of Australia recently launched an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of retirement village living, funded by Retirement Living Council members.

A spokesman for the property lobby group said there was a "significant difference" between these services, with retirement village residents living independently compared to those requiring full-time care and assistance, and welcomed the inquiry.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott told Sky News a decision needed to be made about whether the sector was sustainable and "fit for purpose" as the population ages.

"We have to decide whether the system is workable ... And then we've got these quality and safety issues," Ms Westacott said, pointing to issues with an overlap of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and state governments.

Aged Care Guild chief executive Matthew Richter said hte guild "hope that it stimulates action and contributes to a shift in Australian political and social ethos toward ageing".


Wind farm report a blow to future of the industry

A class-action lawsuit is being planned against a local council, the Victorian government and a wind farm operator after an independent review accepted resident complaints that noise from a Gippsland wind farm was causing them harm.

A council-ordered report on the Bald Hills wind farm found there was a nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

This was despite the wind farm being compliant with state planning laws. Investigators said they could hear wind turbines in some residents’ homes and accepted they could sometimes be heard over the television and that residents were suffering sleep deprivation and other symptoms.

The report is a milestone on a years-long journey for residents at Bald Hills involving botched investigations, doctored reports, court interventions and heavy-handed planning decisions.

The finding could have dramatic implications for the ongoing development of the wind industry, which claims its turbines do not disturb residents.

Affected resident Don Fairbrother said the situation should never have got to this point. “There was a lot of concern about the suitability of the site and the height of the turbines was increased without community consultation,” he said. “The project has had a troubled history and we are finally being listened to.

“Our concerns about sleep dep­ri­vation have finally been recognised as a health and welfare issue.”

Noise logs by Mr Fairbrother document “whining, roaring noise” causing sleep deprivation and headaches.

The independent monitor, James C. Smith and Associates, was engaged in March by the South Gippsland Shire Council lawyers to investigate. The report said Mr Fairbrother appeared to have “frequent sleep interruptions from a noise described as ‘grumbling noise and a sensation’ and frequent associated headaches”.

In conclusion, the report said there had been a consistency in complaints. “Without exception, there are allegations that the wind farm noise is audible inside their individual homes and, as a result, there is sleep disruption during the nightly and early morning hours,” the report said.

One first-hand experience where wind farm noise intruded on conversation during a site visit was seen as “detrimental to the personal comfort and enjoyment of the residential environment”.

“After consideration of the completed noise logs by individual complainants and subsequent discussions with some of these individuals, it appears there is nuisance caused by wind farm noise, in that the noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals,” the report said.

The report is significant because the wind farm had been approved as compliant under state noise regulations and was being operated in a low-noise mode when investi­gations were under way.

The residents’ lawyer, Demenika Tannock, said she was meeting affected residents to consider their options. “A QC has been briefed and a junior counsel briefed with a possible class action against the shire, the operator, the minister and the state Environment Department,” Ms Tannock said.

A case is currently before the Supreme Court.

The Bald Hills wind farm was developed by Mitsui and Co and sold to Australian-based Infrastructure Capital Group in February last year. South Gippsland Council said it would be seeking comments on the report from both the wind farm operator and the complainants over the next few weeks.

Council chief executive Tim Tamlin said: “Without in any way suggesting that council is avoiding its responsibility, I would like to point out that this finding demonstrates the apparent disconnect between the Planning and Environment Act and the Public Health and Wellbeing Act,” he said. “I would suggest this is something the Victorian government needs to resolve.”


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

Its not just Medicare. The rorting by many of them, of the Private system is one reason it costs so much.