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Tuesday, 11 October 2005
Page: 84

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade) (4:36 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

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 (Medicare Safety-nets) Bill 2005 will maintain the sustainability of the extended Medicare safety net and ensure Australians will continue to receive additional protection for high out of pocket medical costs.

From 1 January 2006, the extended Medicare safety net thresholds will increase from $306.90 to $500 for concession card holders and families in receipt of Family Tax Benefit Part A, and from $716.10 to $1,000 for all other families and individuals. The current thresholds will continue to apply to all families and individuals for the current calendar year. The changes give effect to the thresholds initially proposed by the Government in 2003.

An overriding concern for the Government was the long-term sustainability of the safety net. When first announced, the estimated cost of the extended safety net was just $440 million over the four years to 2006-07. After the safety net came into operation it became clear that these estimates needed to be revised. More people than expected qualified for safety net benefits, out-of-pocket medical expenses turned out to be considerably higher, and some specialties shifted charges onto Medicare out-of-hospital items so that their patients could claim safety net entitlements. If the Government had not acted quickly, costs would have blown out to $1.4 billion over the four years to 2007-08.

Increasing the Medicare safety net thresholds has been a tough decision. It reflects our commitment to a strong economy, along with our support for Australia’s world class health system.

The extended Medicare safety net is the most important improvement to our health system since Medicare commenced in 1983. It demonstrates this Government’s continued commitment to helping all Australians to afford quality health care. Increasing the thresholds will enable the Government to retain what is still a generous safety net.

Through it’s continued commitment to the extended safety net, this Government is investing nearly $1.1 billion over the next four years, to ensure individuals and families are protected against unforseen and high out of pocket costs for health care. The safety net will continue to help the estimated 1.5 million people who will benefit in 2006 under the higher thresholds.

Australia has one of the best health systems in the world. For the past 20 years, Medicare has provided Australians with essential protection through affordable access to medical, pharmaceutical and hospital services. Through the measures in this Bill, this Government demonstrates its continued support for the extended Medicare safety net. Through this Bill, the Government is continuing its investment in affordable access to high quality health care.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.