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Defence Minister puts Budget savings ahead of troop welfare

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Senator the Hon David Johnston Shadow Minister for Defence I Senator for Western Australia Media Release DEFENCE MINISTER PUTS BUDGET SAVINGS AHEAD OF TROOP WELFARE Ready access to the best medical treatment can no longer be guaranteed for Defence personnel returning from active duty because the Gillard Government has abrogated its responsibility to a commercial health care provider to save $200 million. The Opposition has been warning the Defence Minister since last October that the new health care arrangements for Defence personnel would lead to significant problems. Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston said many of Australia’s top surgeons and specialists were not signing up to the new contract with Medibank Health Solutions as they were offering payment rates far less than what they received under the old system, and less than the AMA rate. “As a consequence in places where there is a large contingent of Defence personnel such as Canberra, Townsville and Darwin, the specialists who used to treat Defence patients under the old system are no longer prepared to do so,” Senator Johnston said. Senator Johnston said the blame can be placed squarely at the feet of the Defence Minister, because he has been warned for months Medibank were struggling to sign up doctors. “When you are offering doctors less money to treat Defence personnel then it is nothing more than a cost-saving exercise for the Defence budget.”

“The bottom line is the Defence Minister is putting a political imperative of trying to save money ahead of the health and well-being of his troops.”

The Minister has washed his hands of the problem, his Department explaining it was now up to Medibank to decide what to pay doctors as it was a ‘commercial arrangement’.

“This is not about greedy doctors, it is about the basic right of Defence personnel, many of whom have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan, to have ready access to the best medical treatment in Australia.”

“Now we are being told there is nothing the Government can do if a soldier can’t see a specialist because of a ‘commercial arrangement’ and I think most Australians would find that appalling.”

Media Contact: Rebecca Horton 0427 449 120