City News

Medicare calls off cash payments

Across Australia, Medicare is joining the 21st century by going cashless – and the upgrade will soon reach Sydney streets. Medicare centres in Town Hall, Wynyard and King St will start paying rebates straight into bank accounts as of August 20.

Only eight per cent of payments processed in 2011 were cash-based and even fewer (four per cent) were done via cheque. Claims can instead be made by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or by swiping a debit card.

There is no expected extra cost to customers. Medicare is the only Australian Government program still managing large cash volumes, which begs the question why the electronic system was not introduced sooner.

Sarah Lewis, a mother of three, lives in Ultimo. She said: “It would
have been nice if Sydney had the service was in place before. It would
have saved a lot of time and hassle – especially for a busy mum.” EFT can
transfer money into bank accounts the next business day and has been available since 1997, but only in some centres. Credit EFTPOS has been available in just three Medicare centres for a few years.

Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen concedes communities would have liked to see this system in all centres long ago.

“We’ve trialled electronic payment options in place of cash in a number
of service centres,” he said.

“The feedback was very positive, with some customers saying they wished we had offered it sooner.”

A hurdle to overcome concerned accessibility to bank accounts. Alternative options have been put in place if, for example, customers do not hold a debit card.

Mr Jongen still urges customers to register bank accounts details with Medicare. He explained: “[By doing this, it] means benefits can also be claimed directly at your local doctor, with more than half of GPs nationwide able to process payments almost immediately via EFTPOS.”

Another alternative includes using the Medicare phone service. Either
way, customers would not need to be present at centres to complete the claim. As such, more face time with those attending centres is available.

Mr Jongen said: “Staff are providing feedback that the quick and easy
electronic payment methods mean less administration time – and they now have more time to spend with customers.

“Security and safety for customers and staff will be improved. It also
means a move away from high counters and security glass in service
centres, making it a more welcoming environment.”

Medicare centres in all other states, but New South Wales and Victoria,
use electronic payment methods. Remaining centres will be cashless by
mid-September.