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Parties unveil health strategies -

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Parties unveil health strategies

Reporter: Greg Jennett

TONY JONES: If there were any doubts about where health policy stands in the pecking order of
spending priorities in the lead-up to next month's election, they were well and truly answered

In the space of an hour, Mark Latham lifted his tally of Medicare related promises to $3.4 billion
while John Howard ploughed an extra $1.8 billion into his.

And, as Greg Jennett reports from Canberra, an ever growing budget war chest is leaving room for
more health spending in the five weeks still left.

GREG JENNETT: Mark Latham did the rounds of a public hospital on the NSW Central Coast.

A recent patient of one himself, the Labor Leader told staff he had something special on the way.

REPORTER: You're out and about?

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: Yeah, sure we're talking about ways you can lift the bulk-billing

GREG JENNETT: He announced an acceleration of Labor's push to get doctors to bulk-bill 80 per cent
of patient visits.

MARK LATHAM: To lift the Medicare rebate for bulk-billed consultations to 100 per cent immediately.

In the past, we've had policies that phased up the rebate for bulk-billing consultations to 100 per

We're announcing today with an additional $180 million investment, we're doing that straight away.

GREG JENNETT: Coupled with its previous commitments, Labor puts the cost of its promises on
Medicare at $3.4 billion.

MARK LATHAM: The combination of our 100 per cent rebate and our incentive payments puts us a mile

GREG JENNETT: Within the hour, John Howard had upped the ante.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: From January 1 next year, the rebate for all GP services will be
increased from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the scheduled fee.

And importantly, this will help all Australians whether or not they are bulk-billed.

GREG JENNETT: For the average short visit to a GP, the Government says the higher rebate is worth
an extra $4.50.

The total cost of the Coalition's announcement today is $1.8 billion.

JOHN HOWARD: And it does, in combination with the safety net that we have in place, entitle us to
claim that we are better friends of Medicare than the Labor Party.

MARK LATHAM: We all know Mr Howard, he'll say and do anything, say and do anything to try and get
himself out of political trouble.

He's not a believer in Medicare.

He's not a believer in bulk-billing.

His policies aren't directed at saving bulk-billing or Medicare.

They're directed at the election on October 9.

GREG JENNETT: Lobby group reaction doesn't provide any easy answers on whose is better.

They too are split on where taxpayers money is best spent.

NICOLA BALLENDEN, AUSTRALIAN CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION: Labor's policy is much more likely to have an
impact on bulk-billing.

BILL GLASSON, AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: I think the first play of the cards, the Coalition's
got the upper hand.

GREG JENNETT: But John Howard has also dealt Mark Latham an all new hand to play with.

The $1.8 billion the Prime Minister committed today comes from a bigger than expected surplus
that's swelled in Government coffers since the May Budget.

Treasury will publicly release the full size of that on Friday.

In theory, if Labor's policies had been fully costed, it has now got at least an extra $1.8 billion
to spend as well.

MARK LATHAM: Just give us a bit of time to do things in a considered way, consistent with the
policy principles I've outlined here today.

GREG JENNETT: A healthy position to be in.

Greg Jennett, Lateline.