The department is continuing to resolve cases for individuals impacted by issues that arose during the implementation of the statutory Bonded Medical Program in 2020.
As highlighted in our September 2021: Bonded Medical Program Newsletter, the process to resolve cases involves understanding the affected individual’s personal circumstances since they were not correctly bonded in 2020. This includes thorough assessment of both recent and historic actions taken.
What progress has the department made?
The department is making steady progress to resolve the cases for affected individuals. As previously advised, the department has consulted stakeholders and prioritised affected individuals as follows:
- Individuals who thought they were bonded, had completed their obligations and had exited the program
- Individuals who thought they were bonded and still need to complete Return of Service Obligation (RoSO)
- Individuals who had expressed their interest to opt in and await a response.
The department has now resolved 157 cases of those individuals who thought they were bonded, had completed their obligations and had exited the program (Group 1 above).
We are working through cases where the affected individual thought they were bonded and still needs to complete their RoSO (Group 2 above). At 30 November 2021, we have resolved 177 of these cases.
While we are continuing to work through these cases, it is important to be aware that there are a number of complexities in progressing the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship (MRBS) Scheme cases. A requirement for eligibility to opt in to the program is that the individual must not be in breach of their legacy scheme agreement. If, in changing their work activities since 2020, a participant has breached their legacy scheme agreement, the department must manage that breach, including removal of any possible Medicare ban and waiver of any associated financial liability. In accordance with the legislation, the Breach must be managed before the individual can advise the department in writing that they wish to opt in to the program. This process takes time.
We acknowledge that participants are waiting to hear from a case manager. We appreciate your patience as we carefully work through each case. For those of you waiting to opt in, a case manager will be in touch when your case is allocated and will work with you to consider your personal circumstances, including actions you have taken since seeking to opt in.
When will the department contact participants who expressed their interest to opt in and are waiting for a response?
The department acknowledges the delay in progressing participants who expressed their interest to opt in and are waiting for a response.
It is important that all legacy scheme participants waiting to opt in, continue to comply with the requirements of their legacy scheme contract or deed of agreement.
The department recognises that some legacy scheme participants may be considering a change to their work activities in the next few months. If the new work activity is not compliant with your legacy scheme agreement, you should apply for a deferral to ensure that any change you make won’t breach your current agreement.
However, in accordance with the department’s ‘no disadvantage’ approach, any work completed in good faith, consistent with the requirements of the program, will be counted as RoSO when your case is being processed.
Do you need a deferral or simultaneous work approval?
If you are considering a change to your work activities, you should take measures to ensure the change won’t breach your current agreement.
Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship (MRBS) Scheme participants
MRBS Scheme participants must obtain approval for deferral of RoSO or a simultaneous work approval before commencing work in an ineligible area.
If you are an MRBS Scheme participant and are seeking such a change, it is important that you send an email to the department as soon as possible at: BondedMedicalProgram@health.gov.au with ‘MRBS Scheme – [Name] – Request for Deferral/Simultaneous Work Approval’ as the subject.
In addition to providing the details of your proposed work activities, you should also nominate the period you seek approval for.
The department will prioritise these requests for deferrals and simultaneous work approvals and is only seeking responses from relevant MRBS Scheme participants at this time so they do not breach their contract.
Bonded Medical Places (BMP) Scheme participants
The department appreciates that BMP Scheme participants may also wish to make a change to their work activities which are not eligible for RoSO under their deed of agreement.
Further to information provided in the May 2021 update for BMP Scheme participants, deferrals and simultaneous work approvals can be provided retrospectively as advised.
However, in accordance with the requirements of the BMP Scheme deed of agreement or variation, we encourage participants to email the department as soon as possible at: BondedMedicalProgram@health.gov.au with ‘BMP Scheme – [Name] – Request for Deferral/Simultaneous Work Approval’ as the subject.
Update on legislative amendments
Legislative amendments that will provide additional flexibility to administer the program have been introduced into the Australian parliament. The Health Insurance Amendment (Enhancing the Bonded Medical Program and Other Measures) Bill 2021 passed the House of Representatives on 26 October 2021 and is scheduled to be debated in the Senate in the current sitting period.
The proposed amendments will allow:
- a person, in the event of serious disability or death, to cease to be a Bonded Participant without penalty
- for some Bonded Participants, in limited circumstances, to apply for more time to complete their RoSO
- for some inadvertent and/or minor breaches under the program (and legacy schemes) to be more appropriately managed.
The department will provide further updates following completion of the necessary parliamentary processes.
Program update webinars
The department will host a program update webinar for all affected individuals, including those that have expressed interest in the program and await a response.
The update webinar will be held on Tuesday 14 December 2021.
Details on how to join the webinar will be emailed to participants.
Program information – webinars and information booklets
The department has recently recorded a new information webinar as part of its webinar series. The Bonded Medical Program – Prospective student webinar.
The department met with university representatives and other stakeholders to discuss how best to support students considering the program. Following these discussions, the department has recorded an information webinar for prospective students considering applying for or accepting a place in the program. The webinar is available on the department’s website at Bonded Medical Program – Information for prospective students.
The department is also finalising the prospective students information booklet which will be available on the department’s website in December 2021.
Both the webinar and the booklet provide important information on the program including: how to apply for or accept a place, conditions, requirements and obligations, RoSO, eligible work, using the Bonded Return of Service System (BRoSS), consequences for not meeting obligations, and where to go for support.
Further information webinars will be available shortly, including:
- Bonded Medical Program – Information for legacy scheme participants
- BRoSS – Information on the functionality of BRoSS
- Rural workforce agencies – Support for participants.
BRoSS – Release 8 functionality
BRoSS is the department’s online system which assists bonded participants to plan, monitor and manage their obligations under the program. Currently, users of BRoSS include departmental staff, students, bonded participants and universities.
In November 2021, access was extended to Rural Workforce Agencies (RWAs) to assist them to support bonded participants under the program. RWAs can now access information about bonded participants in their area to assist them with accessing rural medical experiences and professional development opportunities during undergraduate and early career years. To date, BRoSS has been released in stages and is on track to be fully functional in 2022.
New email arrangements – how this is working
Since the move to a single mailbox (BondedMedicalProgram@health.gov.au) for all enquiries in July 2021, we have progressively improved our enquiry response times. For most enquiries, we are now providing a response within 4 weeks (or sooner). If you have emailed us before November 2021 and have not received a response, please email us again and we will follow up with you. If you have emailed us within the last 4 weeks, please do not email us again as this will slow down our response times.
Please continue to use the correct email subject line for all enquiries: ‘[Scheme/Program] – [Participant name] – [Request type]’. The enquiry ‘request types’ include:
- General enquiry
- Personal details update
- Simultaneous work (ineligible location)
- Opt in to Bonded Medical Program
- Return of service completion
- Location eligibility
- New applicant/student
- Eligible training application
- Completion of study
- Exceptional circumstances
- Fellowship attainment
- Maternity leave
We appreciate your patience as we continue to work through your email requests.