Medicare funding for female genital mutilation in Australia?

Medicare funding for female genital mutilation in Australia?

Is female genital mutilation (FGM) being performed on little girls in Australia and being paid for by the taxpayer?

This question has been asked following revelations of publicly available data, on Services Australia’s website, which showed that between 2013 and 2021, almost 2000 claims were made under the Medicare code for “circumcision of the penis” but were recorded for female patients, half of whom were girls under the age of 15.

The Department of Health, which has responsbility for the website, has categorically rejected the claim that Medicare payments are being made in relation to FGM, stating that:

“Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebates are not payable for female genital circumcision under any circumstances.”

In relation to the data uncovered on the website, the Department has stated that it is the result of “coding errors”:

“...the majority identified as newborn male circumcision services being assigned to the mother’s Medicare card prior to the baby being registered for Medicare.”

This however fails to “explain why the data shows 40% of females processed under these items were under 5 years of age.” 

When follow-up queries were made to the Department about whether they would withdraw and correct these errors, the Department failed to respond.

Dr Olayide Ogunsiji, an FGM researcher at Western Sydney University has questioned the claims made by the Department:

“If they care about the issue and understand the implications of what their record is showing, they would have conducted a thorough investigation. They should provide assurance that they have investigated it, found out it’s an error, withdrawn wrong statistics and put up the right ones. Otherwise, it is not acceptable [to] say it’s a coding error.”

Khadija Gbla, a survivor of FGM and Director of Ending FGM Australia has stated that the issue is one that must be addressed and questions whether a lack of resolve to investigate means that this issue is not being taken seriously by the government:

“FGM is put in the ‘too hard’ cultural basket, instead of being treated like all other forms of child abuse and violence against women. And the impact of that is that little girls are being left unprotected, and that’s the saddest part for me. That is what breaks my heart.”

This issue is too important not to be investigated in full by the Department of Health. The government must do all it can to protect little girls from this barbaric practice and at the same time ensure without a doubt that Australian taxpayers are not footing the bill.