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Monday, 13 March 2000
Page: 14431

Mrs DRAPER (2:47 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister inform the House how the memorandum of understanding signed with general practitioners in August 1999 is already leading to higher quality general practice care for Australians. Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals relating to this issue?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for her question. The historic GP memorandum of understanding is now delivering for both patients and general practitioners. It has been in place since the middle of last year. It showed great foresight and courage on the part of the medical groups that were involved in its signature and undertaking. It is already working for Australians. As a result of the GP memorandum of understanding, we now have an annual health check for older Australians. This was introduced in November. Already, over 20,000 older Australians have taken advantage of this with over 6,000 people having the annual assessment in their own homes. This changes the way general practitioners do their work and can treat their patients. It gives a greater focus on prevention. It allows items that have not previously been covered under Medicare to now be covered.

Secondly, it gives us a framework where we can modernise the medical benefits schedule in ways which can lead to better health outcomes. We are developing a program to enable GPs to undertake population health activities, something they have never been able to do under Medicare. We are looking at a patient-doctor charter which outlines the rights and responsibilities of each. We are looking at further scope for telemedicine consultations and mechanisms to improve access to patients for a wide range of services at doctors' surgeries. The GP memorandum of understanding is looking at ways in which we can increase facilities for patients to claim from Medicare. This was discussed in the House last week.

From 1 May, the memorandum of understanding will result in a 2.25 per cent increase in the Medicare rebate for GP attendance. This is over and above the normal 1 November increase. This is a one-off increase that would not have happened had this memorandum of understanding not been in place. This will increase the schedule B rebate by 50c per consultation, and will be a significant boost to high quality general practice. This is a direct result of cooperation between GP groups and the federal government. It has shown that, working in cooperation, we can deliver for both the public and general practitioners.

I was asked if I was aware of any alternative plans. I am not aware of any alternative plans, because the opposition has not had a single original idea on health in four years in opposition. The shadow minister for health was prepared to put out carping, negative, opportunistic press releases saying that this would lead to a blow-out in the Commonwealth budget. It has not. She has also said that it would lead to a collapse in bulk-billing. It has not. She has been proven wrong. We are delivering in this area.