Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6599

Senator McLUCAS (3:36 PM) —I also rise to take note of questions from a range of Labor senators focusing on health issues, but notably on the decline in the bulk-billing rates, which were finally released last Friday. This is an issue of real concern to our community, especially in regional and rural areas where the rates, as we know, are much higher. I must say that I was very disappointed in the response of Senator Patterson to the raising of these important issues on behalf of our communities. Senator Patterson responded by simply saying firstly, that the government had increased the number of doctors in training and that was going to assist the rate of bulk-billing and secondly, that the practice incentive payment scheme has seen an increase in the amount of expenditure over the period of time.

I am sorry, but that is going to be no comfort at all to residents of the cities of Townsville and Thuringowa in particular, some of whom I met with yesterday just on this express issue. Over 18 months, they have been raising their concerns with me about access to bulk-billing doctors and the increasing level of co-payment required for those who simply cannot get to one. In the March 2002 quarter for the electorate of Herbert, the rate of bulk-billing was 59.1 per cent. It is one of the worst levels in the nation. It is a level of bulk-billing that is continually decreasing. Surrounding electorates of Dawson and Kennedy had a rate of 65 per cent in the March 2000 quarter, and that is still below the national average. We do not have the electorate-by-electorate figures for this last series, but I will be very interested to see them. I can assure the government and the people of Townsville and Thuringowa— or rather they are assuring me—that those figures have decreased again.

Increasing numbers of doctors in training is a welcome measure, as is the increase in practice incentive payments. They are both welcome measures. But they do not go to the heart of resolving the decline in bulk-billing figures that we have seen, especially in regional and rural Australia. To go to some of the statistics: the percentage of services that were direct billed in Queensland in 1995-96 when the Howard government came to power was 70.6 per cent, with a national average of 71.1 per cent. That has decreased in 2001-02 to 69.4 per cent. It is not such a massive decrease, but it is a decrease. But the decrease from the 2001-02 figure of 69.4 per cent to the last September quarter figure that was released last Friday is quite alarming. If that trend continues, I think the government has a real problem that they have to resolve. The figure in 2001-02 was 69.4 per cent and that has plummeted to 66.1 per cent for the state of Queensland in the quarter finishing in September 2002. If that trend continues, it will be of concern. The trend is also down nationally, as we have heard, to 68.4 per cent.

But the other important statistics to consider in this whole scenario are the patient contributions for patient billed out-of-hospital services between those same periods. When the Howard government came to power, the co-payment was $12.24. The September 2002 quarter figure for patient billed out-of-hospital services is $19.06. That is an enormous rise. For working families in Townsville and Thuringowa sometimes that figure means that they may not even attend the doctor.

Families in Townsville and Thuringowa are looking for real action. They do not want to just listen to Senator Patterson blaming the states. They do not want to hear Senator Patterson blaming Labor. We do not want to hear about doctors that are going to come online three, four or five years down the track. We want to see some real action that will reverse the trend that we have seen over the last six years. We want to see some action that will ensure that if people need to go to the doctor they in fact do go. Families in Townsville and Thuringowa are telling me that they are making decisions not to attend doctors simply because they cannot afford to. The other concern I have is that families are now not going to their family doctor. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.