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Medicare changes mean more costs for families.

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Stephen Smith MP Member for Perth Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing

25/2003 Wednesday 30 April 2003


In 1996, when John Howard got himself elected, his slogan was “For all of us”.

Now we know that, under John Howard, Medicare is just “for some of us”.

The Howard Government’s Medicare changes can mean only one thing - Australian families will pay more for a visit to the doctor.

John Howard was caught out on this yesterday, describing as “false” the claim that families earning more than $32,300 would miss out on bulk-billing under the Government’s package.

But John Howard knows that this will be the inevitable effect.

Under John Howard’s proposed changes, doctors will be allowed to bulk bill concession cardholders, but they will be given the green light to charge co-payments for everyone else.

There are seven million Australians who currently have pensioner and concession cards. What that means is that two out of three Australians will miss out under John Howard’s plan. For them, bulk billing will end.

Australian families with two kids who earn more than $32,300 a year are not eligible for a Health Care Card. For them, bulk billing will end and every time they visit their GP, they’ll be asked to pay more and more.

It is important to understand this about the Medicare package: There is not one incentive in the package for doctors to bulk bill concession cardholders, but two.

The first incentive is a payment of up to $20,000 if doctors agree to bulk bill concession cardholders. The second is the promise that, for the first time, doctors will be able to bill Medicare directly for all their other patients and charge them a fee on top of that.

If the swipe card arrangement was so good for patients, why is it just being held out as a carrot for those doctors who agree to bulk bill pensioners and concession cardholders?

The reality is that, instead of continuing to bulk bill Australian families, for the first time doctors will start charging them a co-payment.

And for doctors who are already charging private fees instead of bulk billing, it will be far easier to increase their fee from $20 to $25 than it is to increase it from $45 to $50.

The Government is alone in making the baseless assertion that there is nothing in the package that will cause doctors to increase their fees.

The Australian Medical Association has already confirmed that the cost of seeing a doctor will rise for Australians who don’t have a Concession, with President Kerryn Phelps saying:

"What will need to happen is that for doctors to continue to bulk bill their concession card holders, they're going to have to charge their non-concession card holders more."

And the architect of Medicare, John Deeble, said yesterday:

“There will be GP co-payments for most people. These would be uncapped and unpredictable, and only a fool would believe that they will not rise or eventually extend to other services…

Separating fees from Medicare benefits will leave doctors free to charge whatever they like… It will give the medical profession all that it has ever dreamed of for a century - universal insurance with no limits on the fees they charge their patients.”

Under John Howard’s plan, bit by bit, visit by visit, the cost of seeing a doctor will increase, and Australian families will pay more.

Under John Howard’s plan, unless you have a Concession Card, you will be paying for your visit to the doctor with a Credit Card.

Media Contact: Andrew Dempster (02) 6277 4108 or 0407 435 157