POLITICS

Government Preempts Medicare Investigation With Security Review

It is to look at how 200,000 health professionals access Medicare records.

10/07/2017 11:36 AM AEST | Updated 10/07/2017 12:29 PM AEST
Brendon Thorne via Getty Images
The Government is concerned about the security of Australians' health data.

CANBERRA -- The federal police investigation into the alleged Medicare data breach and sale of possibly dozens of card details has just begun, but the Turnbull Government has moved to review and enhance the security of Australia's widely accessed online health database.

The move indicates government concern for the integrity of the eight-year-old online system which allows around 200,000 doctors and other providers to check Medicare numbers without a card.

The online portal, Health Professionals Online Services (HPOS), is currently accessed 45,000 times each day and is designed to ensure people caught up in emergencies can get immediate treatment without a card.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge admit the online system has not been "significantly altered" since it was introduced in 2009.

The launch of the review comes after a trader on the hidden 'dark web' was discovered on an auction site illegally selling patient details of 'any Australian' on request through what was listed as a 'Medicare machine'.

The vendor had spruiked a 'vulnerability' in a government system in order to access the card information.

Significantly, the Guardian Australia verified the legitimacy of the card details by requesting the data of one of its own journalists.

The Turnbull Government had been unaware of the alleged illegal activity until contacted by the media, but Tudge regarded the number sold as "small" and in the "dozens".

"The Government wants to ensure there is increased security in a system which is important to both patients and doctors.

"The system, which has not been significantly altered since being brought in 8 years ago, has to be both convenient and utterly secure."

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge

The former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold will lead the review which is expected to report back with an interim report on August 18 and a final report by September 30.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Michael Gannon and the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners will also take part in the review.

An investigation by the Australia Federal Police (AFP) into the alleged breach is underway.

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