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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15719

Mr Murphy asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 18 March 2003:

(1) Did the Minister read an article written by Dr John Deeble, the chief planner for Medicare in the 1980s, titled “Not ailing, but in need of a check up” in The Sydney Morning Herald on 10 March 2003.

(2) Which views expressed by Dr Deeble does the Minister accept and why.

(3) Which views expressed by Dr Deeble does the Minister not accept and why.

(4) What is the Government doing to ensure that all Australians have access to bulk-billing, irrespective of their place of abode.

(5) Will the Government grant doctors a minimum increase of $5 in the bulk-billing fee; if so, when; if not, why not.

Mr Andrews (Minister for Ageing) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) and (3) The Government supports the universal coverage of Medicare for all Australians through:

· access to free public hospital care;

· the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; and

· the Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate.

(4) The Government has recently announced a $917m package, A Fairer Medicare, to strengthen Australia's universal health care system, including by making general practice (GP) services more available and more affordable.

A key element of this package is the provision of incentives for GPs to bulk bill pensioners and Commonwealth concession card holders. The level of incentives has been designed to make vast majority of GPs financially better off. Bulk billing rates have historically been lower in rural areas and therefore higher incentive payments will be provided in these areas to ensure that all Australians have the same access to affordable medical services.

(5) A Fairer Medicare introduces a range of reforms that will benefit all Australians by providing more affordable access to GP services. Simply increasing the level of rebates to GPs would not achieve this. Over the last few years, the bulk billing rate of GP services (non referred attendances) has declined despite significant increases to the Medicare rebate and other funding to general practice.