Your Medicare records are now being used in debt checks

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The Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert says that as many as one in five robo-debt recovery notices may be incorrect, but that’s not stopping the Government expanding the operation.

It is now using Medicare data in a bid to uncover “discrepancies” between Centrelink claims and medical records.

Fairfax Media reported that the Department of Human Services (DHS) quietly released a gazette last week outlining a new data-matching program aimed at uncovering social security fraud by matching “identities and details held in Centrelink records with those held in Medicare records”.

The robo-debt computer program has been checking Centrelink records against Australian Taxation Office (ATO) records, but has now been expanded to involve Medicare because “data-matching multiple records is more likely to identify … premeditated fraudulent activities,” the notice said.

It says that Medicare data will be used to cross check Centrelink customers entitlements over the past five years.

The robo-debt program, introduced by the Coalition in 2016, uses an automated data-matching and assessment process to raise welfare debts against people flagged by the system as having been overpaid. However, it calculates the debt by taking a fortnightly average rather than discovering the exact amount claimed.

The DHS does not provide people with an explanation of how their debt was calculated and has been widely criticised for its heavy-handed approach that involves threats of seizing money from bank accounts.

Figures from the DHS released in Senate Estimates in March showed that 444,989 robo-debts were raised from July 2016 to December 2018. Mr Robert says $1.9 billion worth of Centrelink debts have been recovered and 80 per cent of notices “resulted in a debt being collected”.

However he says he apologised to a woman who received a debt notice for her dead son.

“Because of the size of the debt being uneconomical to recover and the length of time, the department should have simply waived the debt,” he said during question time.

“They didn’t, my department was wrong, I apologise for it.”

Former Opposition leader Bill Shorten wants the system scrapped, describing it as “seriously malfunctioning”.

“It is being enforced in a harsh and cruel way and we now know it is being driven from above,” he said.

Australian Privacy Foundation health committee chair Bernard Robertson-Dunn says the expansion “risked unfairly targeting vulnerable Australians”.

“The people who are the least likely to defend themselves are the most likely to be on welfare or using Medicare,” he says.

Dr Anna Huggins, senior lecturer in law, at Queensland University of Technology, wrote in The Conversation “it’s not always appropriate for important decisions to be made by a computer”.

“In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prohibits certain types of decisions from being solely automated. It also creates rights for individuals who are affected by automated processing.”

She says we need similar safeguards in Australia for high stakes automated decisions made by government agencies.

In 2016, the DHS admitted to uploading sensitive Medicare claims records to the wrong recipient’s electronic health records 86 times in 12 months.


The Department of Human Services (DHS) has reached out to us to correct some misinformation in the Fairfax story.

“This is not the case,” said a DHS spokesperson. “Reporting linking Centrelink-Medicare data matching with online compliance is inaccurate and only serves to confuse two very separate programs administered by the Department of Human Services.

“It also wrongly refers to online compliance reassessments as ‘incorrect debt notices’.

“The online compliance program is a payment review process to identify discrepancies between income reported to Centrelink and the ATO.

“The Medicare data matching is a fraud investigation tool that is not related to online compliance in any way.

“The purpose of Centrelink-Medicare data matching is to protect customer identity, and highlight identities that have been potentially exploited, so the department can take action to protect and assist its customers.”

Read the full DHS statement.

Have you been issued a robo-debt or do you know someone who was?

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Total Comments: 51
  1. 0

    with any debt , a detailed invoice needs to be presented to the person who is said to owe it, then a dispute process, government is now a business, centrelink recipients are called CLIENTS, if a debt is itemised, then its black and white,

    • 0

      Yes thats right, query the debt, it is your right, let them prove it, It is very similar to someone doing a internet scam, if everyone queries it, it will then bury them in own paperwork, also you can appeal a decision, they really think they own you once you sign up as a pensioner and not forgetting travel restrictions, soon it will cashless.

    • 0

      For them to say – “The DHS does not provide people with an explanation of how their debt was calculated” – I find absolutely mind boggling! Dare I say it – illegal.
      For more than 35 years, I worked in the accounts field, for large and small companies, and govt. Many instances of having to take legal action for debt recovery, and believe me, the list of requirements and double checks before getting to court was incredible. Yet here we have the DHS able to just send a letter to someone, saying you owe $XX, and to pay up. NO breakdown, NO explanation, NO details. Somehow this reminds me of the Italian Mafia – and it seems the consequences here are the same.

      I remember quite a few times going to court with all relevant paperwork and records, only to have the case tossed out due to the most minuscule of reasons. Remember one time a case was thrown out because the delivery docket- for over $80,000 of goods – was signed with the wrong date! The emphasis was also stressed that it was up to the creditor to provide ALL backup support for the debt.

      WHY is DHS immune to this?

      I have personally experienced it from the other side – when they underpaid me backpay, grossly. No way would they give me a breakdown of how they reached their figure – told me time and time again that they did not have to. I honestly don’t know of any other business that can just present you with a bill with just a figure on it, and say ‘pay it’. Despite a number of knowledgeable people telling me their figure was totally wrong – DHS would not budge.
      This is just totally wrong. And now to match against Medicare records – I’m scratching my head as to why. Though one situation where this would be a good idea – those many who have been on the DSP for years, for outdated and expired reasons. I personally know of a lady who has been on the DSP for nearly 25 years – due to anxiety she suffered after the breakdown of her marriage! Now you can’t even get on it if you are dying of cancer.

      Only confirms my suspicion that the Govt all along had hidden agenda to push for universal medical records, which I do not agree on.

    • 0

      The Nazi, SS and Gestapo did everything to appease the Fuhrer.

    • 0

      Call it Mafia, Gestapo, etc, etc. The problem remains, as they ignored the Senate recommendation in the last term of parliament to suspend this defective system. I can’t understand why they waste taxpayer money on Senate inquiries if the Senate can’t enforce recommendations. Isn’t it like a contempt of the Senate? Maybe a High Court needs to check this. If the Senate is powerless, at least all further such waste-of-taxpayer inquiries should be scrapped.

      It is time some Legal body / Senior QC took up the case to shut down this defective robo-debt system being used to issue debt notices without even providing the details! How can this be legal and a reasonable tool authorised for use against the people?

    • 0

      Good one. Send them a debt for a few hundred dollars, they have said they don’t need proof that they owe it.

  2. 0

    This is disgraceful. In fact I can’t even undeerstand how Medicare records is relevant to possibly income fraud at all!!! They are just going to find that there are a lot of sick people out there!

  3. 0

    This lot was n voted in pay the price now

    • 0

      This has nothing to do with who we voted for. This is control of the Australian public and loss of privacy and security. It is massive.
      No matter which party you voted for – politicians are very happy to have full control of us. Its our responsibility to not be so complacent – for our children’s sake. We don’t need to be the next Hong Kong.

  4. 0

    What a surprise!! Now, all of you folk who said it is OK for your doctors to share your medical records with the trustworthy government, which you vote back in, can suck it up! Again!

    Some of us cynical old folk, who have learnt not to trust Facebook, Google, or the Government, and so do NOT allow access to anything that is not already in the system (your name, address, age, income, investments, debts, tax details, and especially all of your anti-government posts to Life Choices Web pages with your name/email attached), try our hardest to NOT give permission to anyone asking.

    Of course THEY still have the access, as everything you do and say is monitored by marketing folk, as well as the governments. Your chemist knows what status your pension or medical cards have, within an instant. Centrelink probably knows your porn preferences, or your bra size.

    At least we should not willingly give THEM permission to access and especially use your data, and then they have to be invasive to get your stuff. It might help you one day, when Robocop calls.

    As for the debts, we constitutionally are innocent until proven guilty, for whatever value that might have. THEY have to prove the debt, you don’t have to prove innocence. If they call, just ask for documentary proof. Then rest easily. The onus is on THEM not you.

    • 0

      Medicare is about monetary transactions related to medical expense claims. It is not any part of your health records.

    • 0

      Theo1943 Medicare might be about monetary transactions but it also records the doctor’s provider number and the item number of the service you had. If you only had a consultation with a GP then no-one except the GP is going to know what you discussed at the consultation. However, if it was for a specific service then the item number can be matched with the Medicare Schedule to tell you what the service was. This is how doctors get paid appropriately for the Medicare services they provide.

  5. 0

    Unfortunately far too many people are claiming welfare and getting away with it. So why not use all the data available to catch them out? The majority of people actually owe these debts or even more.

    • 0

      VERY caring response – there may be some who do this. The majority do not. I would prefer not to rely on the Age Pension, but have no other option. Don’t worry BigBear, you will never have to bail me out. I live within my income – very carefully.

    • 0

      I agree with VCBBs comments.
      According to the 2017-18 DHS annual report:
      * 2,493,474 million social welfare debts were raised to the value of $3.17 billion, of which $1.7 billion was recovered.
      * Public tip-offs/dob-ins during this period was 110,004.
      * DHS referred 560 cases to the DPP.
      These figures support VCBBs claim that far too many people are claiming welfare.
      As a self-funded retiree who has paid significant amounts of taxes over many decades, I support any government initiative including using any data it has available to crack down on these welfare cheats.
      I resent the fact that there are so many dishonest and fraudulent welfare recipients out there that cheat the system and that honest citizens like myself are supporting them with all the taxes that I’m paying.

    • 0

      it is also said that a very large majority do not query the debt but just pay it to avoid the deliberate hassle that centrelink gives them when they try.

      I read that a father whos son got a $3000 debt notice and was just going to pay it back. Fortunately his father told him not to and helped him to go through all the hassle. What was the end result. He owned nothing.

  6. 0

    People were worried about having their details on My Health Record, but it seems any website will do if they want to chase you up and make life difficult. If we tried to conduct business the way some of these mobs do, we would find ourselves in court quick smart I think. I would NEVER pay anything I am told I owe, unless I had a full breakdown with dates etc. I’m a good money manager so hopefully it won’t happen to me, but I’m sure many others thought the same way.

  7. 0

    It should be noted that this system was introduced to the Parliament by Shorten and Plibersek back in 2012. It’s a bit hypocritical for Labor to complain about the implementation of the method used to recover overpayments when they designed it. If the overpayments are caused by people submitting the incorrect information how can that be the fault of the government? Are people saying that a debt to government, in essence taxpayers’ funds, should be waived?

    • 0

      If one claims they are owed money they better prove it!!!!

    • 0

      OM, it is fine for you to note that Labor created the system, however Liberals are fully responsible for the use of this defective system which should not even be legal. Just like the many attacks on Age Pension set up by Labor, then exploited by the Libs for screwing pensioners & part-pensioners.

      All these comments show how wrong the Australian people are to allow a majority in parliament for either of these Major but disgusting anti-people parties.

      I agree with Arvo. However, the robo-debt system is confirmed to be defective, as the Minister himself has admitted in at least 20% of cases – that is a disaster by any yardstick, and that figure must be actually higher as many may not even dispute smaller issues and some may not be mentally / physically up to it at their age to fight this massive Gestapo group. It must be shut down immediately!

    • 0

      Hence (partly) my constant reference to our Government Of Two Parties.. neither is innocent …

    • 0

      I think they want the cashless card everywhere and this is chipping away working towards that outcome. There is big money in running those cards and the kickbacks from businesses allowed to participate.

      Add Medicare payment system to the deal and your talking lots of billions for a privatisation.

      Surely other people can see the consequences coming at them after the grid sales etc. It’s the same process.

      Prove it doesn’t work, is too expensive etc , set up mane making opportunities and take it all to the market. It’s in the LNPs genes. Selling other people’s(public) assets is a winning deal no matter how you look at it.

  8. 0

    Is there anything this unconscionable government won’t stoop to in squeezing every last drop of money out of vulnerable people, while multinational companies continue to pay little or no tax? How they got back in is beyond my limited capabilities to understand!

  9. 0

    It would be useful for Your Life Choices to get a legal opinion on this topic. Does DHS and Centrelink have to PROVE their debt before they can legally demand payment of it? Or has the government got some special exemption from the normal laws of debt recovery?

  10. 0

    It’s generally not about ‘proving’. Dealing with a private company who make a commission on the debt means they will make it as hard as possible. The idea is that many will give up and pay. It is far easier to do this via robo’ing 1,000 $100 ‘debts’ then chase up a single $100,000 ‘rorter’.
    Bank accounts garnisheed, overseas travel blocked for amounts less than $500. No Centrelink requirement to show details of the amounts in question. These amounts maybe 7 years old and many have not kept payslips. Many parents have simply pay the amount because it’s all too hard and time confusing and wanted their kids to have a gap year. They can afford it? Well job done – that was easy Govt money!
    The problem is that you need then to declare that you ‘stole’ the money and have this on your permanent ‘debt’ records – even if the debt is not ‘proven’.
    You can earn $10k one fortnight and no pension, then a full pension for the next fortnight, then no pension etc. It’s the system that the problem! Not generally the recipients.
    Also, think of the business – especially those that employ students – that have had to employ new staff to look up old wage records. Job creation – done! Most companies thought it was the ATO’s period of recording, not Centrelink 7 years.

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