Bonded Medical Program Newsletter – December/January 2022

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Targeted audience:

Health sector

The Bonded Medical Scheme (the Scheme) is a key part of the Government’s enhanced rural health strategy to ensure Australia’s trained medical workforce is well distributed, flexible and targeted to areas of labor shortage. work, especially in the regions, countryside, remote areas and communities.

The ministry continues to resolve the cases of those affected by issues that arose during the implementation of the program in 2020.

As highlighted in our October/November 2021 newsletter, working on these cases involves understanding the personal circumstances of the data subject as they were not properly linked in 2020, including assessment of recent and historical actions taken. .

What progress has the department made?

The department continues to make steady progress. We appreciate your patience as we carefully handle each case. As previously reported, the Ministry consulted with stakeholders and prioritized those affected as follows:

  1. People who thought they were bonded, had fulfilled their obligations and left the Program;
  2. People who thought they were related and have yet to fulfill their return of service obligation (RoSO); and
  3. People who have expressed interest in registering and are waiting for a response.

The ministry has now resolved 159 of the 176 cases of people who thought they were bonded, had fulfilled their obligations and left the program (group 1 above). The remaining 16 cases sit with the participant pending his decision.

We are working on cases where the data subject believed they were related and has yet to complete their ROSO (group 2 above). We have finalized 205 of the 407 cases.

We have started assigning cases of affected individuals who have expressed interest in the program and are awaiting a response. We have finalized 88 and allocated 378 others.

More details are shown in the table

Persons concerned^

Allocated

Finalized

% finalized

1) Membership and Exit

176

175

159

90.3%

2) Register and stay

407

501*

205

50.4%

3) Waiting for registration

825

378

88

10.7%

Amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973

On 13 December 2021, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 2021 (Strengthening Bail Medical Scheme and Other Measures) received Royal Assent.

The legislative amendments provide additional flexibility to support the ongoing administration of the Program. The proposed changes, once initiated, will address unintended consequences for the benefit of participants and will also support the achievement of Program objectives.

The changes to the legislation are important because they:

  • allow a person to cease to be a bonded participant and leave the program in the event of death. This fixes the unintended consequence where a deceased person could breach the terms of the program and incur a debt to the Commonwealth;
  • to provide more appropriate administration in certain circumstances by allowing a Bonded Participant, or a person on behalf of a Bonded Participant, to apply to the Secretary for a “determination of exceptional circumstances”. If granted, the subject would no longer be a bonded participant and would not be subject to the consequences if the exceptional circumstance led the subject to breach his obligations or any of the conditions of the program;
  • provide greater flexibility to allow certain legacy program participants – who otherwise would not be able to complete their ROSO within the allowed 18-year period – to request an “extended compliance determination” from the Secretary. After reviewing the required evidence – including a plan of how the person would propose to complete their RoSO and the time required to do so – the secretary may choose to grant the decision and, in doing so, determine the additional time (up to ‘at 6 years old) that the person would have to complete their RoSO, if they became a bonded participant.
  • reduce from $10,000 to $1,000 the administrative penalty that applies if a person fails to comply with the requirements to provide the necessary information – as stated in the program rules.

NB: The four changes described above require a modification of the program rules and/or further development of the Bonded Return of Service System (BRoSS) and will begin upon “proclamation” or six months after Royal Assent (~ June 13, 2022).

  • [Commencing on the Royal Assent ~13 December 2021] additional flexibility for administering minor and inadvertent violations of Rural Medical Scholarship Program (MRBS) contracts that may otherwise have resulted in the participant’s disqualification from Medicare’s MRBS program and possible accrual of a debt to the Commonwealth.

Further information on the changes can be found in Bills Digest no. 19 (2021-22) – Health Insurance Amendment Bill 2021 (Strengthening Bail Medical Scheme and Other Measures) (aph.gov.au).

Program Update Webinar

On Tuesday, December 14, 2021, the department hosted a program update webinar for all concerned, including those who have expressed an interest in participating and are awaiting a response.

The webinar slideshow provides the key information that was covered, including how the department is progressing on cases, information about the opt-in process, and what those affected can do to prepare. The webinar slideshow also includes frequently asked questions and answers.

During the webinar, the department said it is working to finalize all remaining cases of affected individuals by June 30, 2022.

If you are still waiting, once your case has been assigned, a case manager will contact you to understand your personal situation and review any decisions or actions you have taken since 2020, in order to finalize your case on a “no inconvenience” basis.

Program information webinars and information brochures

The department has recorded an informational webinar for prospective students who are considering applying/accepting a bonded place in the program. The webinar is available on the department’s website at Bonded Medical Program – Information for Prospective Students.

The department also finalized the prospective student information booklet.

Both the webinar and the booklet provide important information about the program, including: how to apply/accept a place, conditions, requirements and obligations, RoSO, eligible work, using BRoSS, consequences of not -compliance with obligations and where to go for help.

More information about the webinars and brochures will be available shortly, including:

  • Bonded Medical Program – Information for Legacy Program Participants
  • Rural Labor Agencies – Support for Bonded Participants

BRoSS – Deployment and User Demo Webinar

The Bonded Return of Service System (BRoSS) is the ministry’s online system that helps bonded participants plan, monitor and manage their program obligations. Other users of BRoSS include universities, rural labor agencies and ministry staff.

BRoSS continues to be developed and released in stages. The next version of BRoSS is expected to ship in the coming months and will provide enhanced functionality to all users.

To support those whose cases have been finalized and who are now bonded participants, the department has posted a Bonded Return of Service System (BRoSS) webinar on its website. The webinar includes a live video demonstration of BRoSS and frequently asked questions and answers.

Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) Rural Physician and Nurse Practitioner Debt Reduction Initiative

Participants in bonded programs may be eligible for the Australian Government’s new HELP debt relief initiative for rural doctors and nurse practitioners.

The initiative encourages eligible physicians and nurse practitioners to live and work in rural, remote, and far-remote communities, reducing their outstanding HELP debt.

The ministry recently posted information about the initiative, including a fact sheet, frequently asked questions and case studies of potential participants on its website.

While eligibility for the initiative began on January 1, 2022, legislative changes to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 are required. It is expected that the amendments will also allow for secondary legislation in the form of “guidelines” which will govern the administration of the scheme (in the same way that the Bonded Medical Scheme Rules support Part VD of the Health Care Act 1973). Health Insurance). The proposed guidelines will describe the processes that participants must follow in order to realize the benefits of the program.

The Department will provide further information, including updates on progress – for example when the necessary Legislative Amendment Bill will be introduced in the Australian Parliament – on the website above.

The team can be contacted by email: HELP for Rural Physicians and Nurse Practitioners Info [at] Health.gov.au

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