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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 1

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:05 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This government is committed to protecting and strengthening Medicare and delivering high quality, affordable health care to all Australians.

The measures in the Health Insurance Amendment (100% Medicare Rebate and Other Measures) Bill 2004 will make medical services more affordable in two ways.

Firstly, the Medicare benefit (or Medicare rebate) for general practitioner (GP) services will be increased from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the Medicare schedule fee. This increase will take effect from 1 January 2005. This means that, for a standard GP surgery consultation, there will be an increase in the Medicare rebate of $4.60 for each patient visit. Let me stress that all patients will benefit from this measure. There should be more bulk-billing, because bulk-billing doctors will secure higher rebates, and there will be more money in the pockets of patients where doctors do not bulk-bill.

Through this measure, the government is investing more than $1.7 billion over four years to make GP services more affordable to all Australians.

This measure will be complemented by an increase in the fees paid by the Department of Veterans' Affairs for GP services provided to eligible veterans and war widows. The fees paid to local medical officers will be increased from 100 per cent to 115 per cent of the equivalent Medicare fee plus the Veterans Access Payment. This will maintain the relativities between the Medicare and Department of Veterans' Affairs fee scales.

This measure builds on other recent government initiatives aimed at making GP services more affordable, such as the bulk-billing incentives targeted at Commonwealth concession card holders and children aged under 16.

Secondly, under this bill, eligibility for the extended Medicare safety net at the $300 threshold will be confirmed for all families that are eligible for family tax benefit part A. The extended Medicare safety net covers 80 per cent of out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services provided outside hospital, once an annual threshold is met.

Due to a drafting error in the original bill, families deferring their family tax benefit payments might have missed out on safety net eligibility at the lower $300 threshold. This bill confirms their eligibility.

Australia has one of the best health systems in the world. Australians trust Medicare, and they can trust this government to make a good system even better through measures such as those in this bill.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr McClelland) adjourned.