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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3404

Mrs KELLY —Is the Minister for Health aware of the Australian Medical Association's call to doctors to abandon the Medicare schedule and set their own fees? What will this proposal cost Medicare patients?

Dr BLEWETT —I am aware of statements made by the AMA. The first thing that I should point out is that on 1 August the great bulk of doctors in this country will receive a 6.1 per cent increase in their fees following a fee increase granted only nine months ago on 1 November. That is the first thing the AMA should take into consideration. Secondly, a number of reductions in fees have been carefully targeted in specific areas as part of an ongoing policy by this Government to do three things: First, to ensure that there are not improper financial incentives to medical activities in particular areas; secondly, to remove rorts and distortions that occur in the system; and, thirdly, to ensure that the fees relate to changes in technology.

Let me give honourable members an example. The very commonly performed joint operation of cataract and lens implantation now costs just under $1,000. When that was established as a basis some 10 or 15 years ago the operation took a considerable period. Most operations are now done in less than one hour. There have been payments of $8,000, $9,000 and even $10,000 a day because the great technological changes enable the operations to be done in a much shorter time. It would be wrong for any government in this country to neglect to adjust the schedule fees in relation to those technological changes. So all the targeted changes meet the three principles laid down and we will continue to conduct those reforms within the medical benefits system.

The final point I make is that there is in this land a notion that pensioners, the disadvantaged and ordinary working people should bear their share of restraint. We are saying to some elements of the medical profession-most of them have done very well in recent years-that we expect some restraint from them too.