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Monday, 24 November 2003
Page: 22482

Ms BURKE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware that the bulk-billing rate in the electorate of La Trobe has fallen to just 62.6 per cent, a fall of nearly 20 per cent in just the last three years? Has the minister provided his colleague the member for La Trobe with a guarantee that bulk-billing rates will now increase, making it easier for families in suburbs like Berwick and Emerald to find a doctor that bulk-bills?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —Let me make it very clear to the member for Chisholm that the government does not determine who gets bulk-billed; doctors and patients determine who gets bulk-billed. That has always been the case.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Let me make it very clear to the House that standing order 55 wisely says:

When a Member is speaking, no Member may converse aloud or make any noise or disturbance to interrupt the Member.

The minister has the call.

Mr ABBOTT —As the political architect of Medicare, Dr Neal Blewett, repeatedly made very clear, doctors have a choice. They can bulk-bill their patients—and he said that this would be particularly the case for pensioners and other needy people—or they can charge a fee and then the patients can get back 85 per cent of the schedule fee from Medicare. So this government's position on bulk-billing is exactly the same position as that of the political father of Medicare, Dr Neal Blewett. Let me make this point very clear to the member for Chisholm. Every bulk-billing doctor will be better off under this government's package. Every doctor who is currently bulk-billing will have a greater Medicare income as a result of this package, and many doctors who are not currently bulk-billing will have significant incentives to go back to bulk-billing. So the bulk-billing rate in Chisholm, which is currently 73.8 per cent, may very well go up under this package.