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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2497

Senator WALTERS —As the Minister representing the Minister for Health would be aware, Professor Penington is one of the most influential advisers to the Government in the area of health. Is the Minister aware that, about six months ago, Professor Penington called on the Government to scrap universal bulk billing in an effort to curb costs? If so, why, as reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald, is the Government, in its mini-Budget, about to ignore this advice and attempt to force more doctors to bulk bill by maintaining the Medicare rebate of 85 per cent of the schedule fee for patients whose doctors bulk bill but to lower the rebate to 75 per cent of the schedule fee for patients whose doctors do not bulk bill, creating a 25 per cent gap for one section of the community?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Before calling Senator Tate, I must say that Senator Walters's question was a hypothetical one. However, if the Minister wishes to answer it he may do so. I call the Minister.

Senator TATE —Mr President, I was about to make the same comment in the preliminaries to my answer and, therefore, I do not intend to comment on the speculative part of Senator Walters's question. I take it, from the first part of her question, that she adopts Professor Penington's view that bulk billing should be abolished. There are many myths about bulk billing and the effect it has on the cost of providing health care to Australians. For example, it is often claimed that bulk billing has led to overservicing by doctors. I will point out some statistics which may be useful in the Senate's consideration of such claims. In the last full calendar year of the final Fraser Government's health scheme, each Australian used an average of 7.7 medical services. In the 1986 calendar year, the average was 7.68-an almost identical utilisation rate. Therefore, the claims made by the Opposition that bulk billing has led to overservicing are fraudulent. Insofar as Senator Walters seeks some confirmation of the speculation in the Press, I will not respond.