PSR on track for one of its busiest years on record

4 minute read

Despite a teddy bear-themed drama threatening to derail the hearing, Estimates revealed new facts about the Professional Services Review’s activity over the past year.

The Professional Services Review has received 85 referrals from Medicare so far this financial year, with the acting director Dr Antonio Di Dio telling a Senates Estimates committee that 2024 was on track to be “one of our busiest ever years”.

The Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which covers the health and aged care portfolio, today heard from top Department of Health and Aged Care brass, along with the PSR, AHPRA, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Rural Health Commissioner.

Teddy bears also made a surprise appearance … but more on that later.

Canberra GP Dr Di Dio has been heading up the PSR, which investigates cases of Medicare fraud and misuse, since May 2022.

Under Dr Dio’s leadership, PSR findings of no further action – which amount to a not-guilty verdict – have risen to their highest point in seven years.

Of the 85 cases that have been referred this year, Dr Di Dio told the committee, 46 practitioners have received at least partial disqualification from Medicare.

While it’s likely that not all cases have been closed yet, it’s worth pointing out that between 2017 and 2019, less than 5% of cases resulted in no further action. 

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts questioned Dr Di Dio and PSR general counsel Bruce Topperwien on the agency’s process for deciding whether a doctor has engaged in inappropriate practice, which one Federal Court justice likened to a “Star Chamber”.

Mr Roberts put it to Mr Topperwien that the PSR “takes the role of both prosecutor and decider of facts” in drawing its conclusions.

“[The PSR] is an investigator in that it is charged with looking at whether or not the practitioner engaged in inappropriate practice,” Mr Topperwien said.

“Clearly, if that is its task, it has to investigate and obtain all the evidence necessary to determine that question.”

When asked whether the absence of a senior lawyer or judge affected the PSR’s procedural fairness and process, Mr Topperwien said the two PSR lawyers present at committee hearings “are very experienced in administrative law and the rules of natural justice to ensure that the … hearing is conducted fairly”.

Mr Roberts also questioned Dr Di Dio on how the agency ensures fairness when selecting a GP’s peers for a PSR committee when the hearing is regarding a doctor’s niche interest area.

“A GP could be one of the leaders in the country in his or her field and be swamped with work because hardly anyone else is doing it,” the senator said.

“There wouldn’t be someone who was capable of understanding that complete picture.”

Dr Di Dio’s response was blunt.

“GPs are generally not stupid and GPs are capable of understanding the work of other GPs should that GP be practising in a highly specialised area,” he said.

“We do the best that we can to match our panel of experts with the relevant practitioner.”

This report would have included more information on DoHAC, AHPRA and the Rural Health Committee’s senate grilling, but the hearings were running late, and deadlines wait for no one.

The lateness was due in part to a lengthy exchange on teddy bears. 

In an attempt to raise public awareness of Medicare urgent care clinics, DoHAC spent $4000 on 250 promotional teddy bears.

The $16 plush toys wear specially printed “Medicare urgent care clinic” t-shirts and were intended to be distributed to individual clinics and MPs.

Shadow Health Minister Senator Anne Ruston questioned department officials on why – based on social media posts she had personally seen – the teddies appear to have gone to Labor MPs with UCCs in their electorates.

“It looks to me like we’re teddy bear barrelling,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles pictured with two of the offending teddies.

Ms Ruston clarified that she was not motivated by bitterness at not receiving a teddy bear herself.

“A $16 teddy bear does strike me as a pretty stupid thing to be providing as part of a promotion to try and increase the access and reduce the cost of Australians getting access [to healthcare],” she said.

Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health Senator Malarndirri McCarthy responded by accusing Ms Ruston of being “cruel” about the soft toys.

“There were a lot of kids who are happy about those teddy bears,” she said.

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×