Health sector professionals who increasingly are being brought into the purview of the Trade Practices Act will receive guidance about their rights and responsibilities under the Act through a new Australian Competition and Consumer Commission publication.

"With the Competition Policy Reform Act 1995 coming into effect, and following the State and Territory governments' complementary legislation extending the restrictive trade practices provisions to everyone in business, the health sector will face increasing exposure to competition and fair trading issues," ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels warned today.

"Already the ACCC, and its predecessor the Trade Practices Commission, has held extensive discussions with representative organisations of the likely impact of the competition reforms on the health sector.

"All health sector members must realise that they now, or will shortly be, be subject to the Trade Practices Act.

"Knowledge of the Act is, therefore, essential for health sector members to ensure they maximise the benefits of the competition reforms - and minimise their risks.

"Many issues are addressed in A Guide to the Trade Practices Act for the Health Sector," Professor Fels said. "The fact that there are so many issues makes the Guide essential reading.

"For individual professionals the issues include:

  • fee setting;
  • negotiations with hospitals/health funds;
  • agreements with other professionals; and
  • representations which can be made about professional services.

"Private hospital will need to address fee setting; arrangements with health funds, health professionals and other private hospitals; and the representations they make.

"Health funds will need to address price setting; arrangements with hospitals, health professionals and other health funds; their market power; their representations and methods of ensuring that their products match consumers stated needs.

"Issues for associations include price setting; the associations' own articles, by-laws and Codes; any restrictions on advertising, association with other professionals/business; sales of related goods or services; restrictions on membership and disciplinary measures."

"The Guide has been written in plain-English and I encourage the health sector to quickly familiarise itself with the booklet."

Professor Fels said ACCC officers would continue to meet with and educate health sector members of their new responsibilities and risks.

"We are not taking a 'big stick' approach to this matter," he emphasised. "This guide is the result of nearly six months' work where the TPC and ACCC have identified matters which will be of concern to a sector which, until now, has had little or no exposure to the Act."

"The health sector is a major priority for the Commission. The sector is undergoing massive change. It participants must be informed."

The guide is available for $10 from all ACCC offices in each capital city, Townsville and Tamworth. It can be ordered from the Publications Officer, ACCC, PO Box 19, Belconnen, ACT, 2617.