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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 22704

Mr NAIRN (2:07 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House why the safety net in the government's new MedicarePlus package is necessary? What has the government done to meet concerns about the introduction of a safety net?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Eden-Monaro for his question and I acknowledge his concerns to ensure that we get more doctors and nurses into general practices in rural and regional Australia—concerns that will be substantially addressed by the MedicarePlus package. The MedicarePlus package is a significant improvement to the Medicare system. It is a substantial structural improvement to the existing Medicare system. The brand new MedicarePlus safety net will protect Australians from significant out-of-pocket medical expenses and it closes a substantial gap in the existing Medicare system.

In 2002 there were 50,000 concession card holders who faced out-of-hospital, out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding $500. In 2002, 30,000 Australian families faced out-of-hospital, out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding $1,000. These people deserve protection and they deserve protection now. I want to make it clear that the new MedicarePlus safety net does not just cover general practice costs; it covers the cost of visits to specialists and diagnosticians, and it covers the costs of out-of-hospital medical treatments such as radiation oncology. This safety net will benefit an average of 200,000 Australians a year, but all 20 million Australians will benefit from the security of knowing that they will never face crippling out-of-pocket health care costs.

For the last five months, the Senate has been inquiring into the Medicare system. That Senate inquiry received 226 written submissions and heard from more than 170 witnesses. This subject has been well and truly inquired into and there is no reason at all why the Senate needs to hear the same people say the same things over and over again. There is no reason why the Senate cannot decide this matter now. A further Senate inquiry would simply prolong uncertainty over health policy. So I call on the Senate to approve MedicarePlus this week.