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.
The changes could leave patients undergoing expensive treatment, including IVF thousands of dollars out of pocket for weeks and will also impact big claims for breast prosthetics that previously had a three-day turnaround.
Whistleblower public servants have come forward to warn patients can expect an end to face-to-face claims and claim they have been banned from telling patients that their Medicare claims will be sent off-site for processing.
“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 said.
“Apparently we won’t even have a Medicare dropbox, 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 Department of Human Services that is responsible for processing the Medicare claims has shifted the processing from local centres to centralised, city-based claims centres, extending the time it takes to deliver refunds.
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.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the changes would inconvenience all patients but risked leaving older patients vulnerable.
Opposition health and Medicare spokeswoman Catherine King said the closure of frontline services was paving the way for the privatisation of the system.
“We’ve heard the government is proposing to close down the remaining frontline services in Centrelink offices across the country for people accessing Medicare payments,” Ms King said on Sunday.
However, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said there had been some consolidation of shopfronts over the past years but most people are still able to find a service centre within a few kilometres of their home.
Rebates are now being processed in one of 17 centres nationwide, but from the patient’s perspective there is no change, Mr Tudge told reporters on Sunday.
“Every single aspect of Medicare which is currently operated by government will continue to be operated by government, including the processing of the Medicare rebate,” Mr Tudge said.