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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 22006

Mr BYRNE (9:19 PM) —On 20 October this year, Cranbourne's last bulk-billing clinic, the Amstel Medical Centre, announced that it would no longer bulk-bill patients. Its patients are now expected to pay an up-front fee of $40 per visit. The message to residents in Cranbourne—about 27,034 individuals in the suburbs of Cranbourne, Cranbourne West and Cranbourne North—is clear: unless you have got a lot of money you simply cannot afford to get sick in Cranbourne.

The people of Cranbourne are now left with absolutely no alternative if they have a problem paying that up-front fee. What a lot of them are doing as a consequence of not being able to visit their doctor in Cranbourne is to visit the emergency department of the Dandenong Hospital. It is very interesting looking at the bulk-billing rate in my federal electorate, which went down from 91.7 per cent in March 2000 to 76.2 per cent in December 2002, a drop of 15.5 per cent—

Mr Stephen Smith —Disgraceful.

Mr BYRNE —I know it is disgraceful, member for Perth, to see that the increase in the emergency department presentations at the Dandenong Hospital is 17 per cent. That 17 per cent increase, just coincidentally, corresponds with the diminution of bulk-billing in my electorate.

It is interesting that the shadow minister for health is here. She put out a press release on 2 November and it quoted the Minister for Health and Ageing talking about patients negotiating with doctors, in terms of the rate of bulk-billing. I would like to explain to the health minister the effect of that particular policy on the residents of Cranbourne. Let me tell you a couple of stories about people who have been presenting to centres like the Cranbourne medical centre. This clinic, which used to bulk-bill all people, now only bulk-bills age pensioners and not individuals with a disability pension. Instead, a disabled pensioner is being charged $50 up front just to see a doctor. This is despite the fact that people like the person I want to tell you about are receiving a disability pension which, if they are lucky, would be a payment of $226 a week.

The particular case I want to tell you about is that of a Cranbourne resident named Milton. Milton went to the surgery and presented himself to the doctor. He had had burns and had been treated and bulk-billed. When he fronted up to the clinic on this day, the surgery asked that he pay $50 up front. This is at the largest medical clinic in Cranbourne. This is a quote from Milton:

I told the receptionist that because I'm on a disability pension, there was just no way that I could pay that. I asked her to ask the doctor if he would consider just bulk billing me. He knows me—

in fact, he had been treating him for two years—

and knows I couldn't afford to pay that much. The receptionist checked with the doctor, and the doctor refused to see me unless I paid the extra $25.00.

It cost $50 in Cranbourne and he was asked to pay up front.

In another example, Cranbourne resident Jarrod Thomson was also refused treatment at the Cranbourne Family Medical Centre unless he paid the up-front fee. A letter written by Peter Thomson, Jarrod's dad, which was published in the Herald Sun on 4 September this year, states:

Our son Jarrod is 23, has spina bifida, and has difficulty getting around. He relies on us for support ... As a disability pensioner he is refused bulk-billing at the Cranbourne Family Medical Centre, which still bulk-bills aged pensioners and veterans. This is not fair as Jarrod can least afford the ... up front (fee), let alone the extra expense and time on our part to get some of it back for him, as he does not understand forms ... John Howard, you and your Government are responsible for this mess. Why don't you sink the boot in a bit more to the most vulnerable section of society while you are at it?

At the Casey Medical Centre, disabled pensioners are not the only groups that can no longer afford health care. I will give you another example. Alice, a Cranbourne West resident, contacted my office after paying out a colossal $400 over five days at this clinic for treatment of a spider bite. Alice, who has asked that her real identity be kept secret, visited the doctor five times for treatment of the bite. This quote is from Alice, a resident of Cranbourne:

This is one of the fastest growing areas around, there are a lot of families, a lot of kids, and they can't afford to pay this kind of money. I would like to see our health system go back to the way it used to be. We are becoming like America. I don't know many people who can afford to go and see a doctor for $60, $70 and then shell out $30 for medication after it. This clinic is even charging unemployed people $50 or $60 to see a doctor. Single mothers and people who can't work shouldn't be charged.

It is a disgrace, and we will be holding a funeral for bulk-billing in Cranbourne. (Time expired)