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Medicare package needs cap for the gap: Andren.

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Peter Andren MP - Independent Member for Calare

28 April 2003

Medicare package needs cap for the gap - Andren

The Fairer Medicare package may encourage more doctors and nurses to the bush, but without a cap on the ‘gap’ between the Medicare rebate and doctor fees, it opens the gate for bigger medical bills for low and middle income families, according to Peter Andren, Member for Calare.

“The $917 million package has some worthwhile incentives to encourage bulk billing but the changes are also likely to be an incentive for doctors to increase their charges,” Mr Andren said.

“I’d like to see a thorough parliamentary inquiry into how these changes are likely to impact people at ground level, especially families on low to middle incomes who don’t qualify for a health care card.

“Under the new scheme, participating doctors will be paid a bonus if they agree to bulk bill patients with health care cards and other concession cards, but they will be able to charge non-concession patients any fee they like.

“These patients will pay the ‘gap’ up-front and the doctor will be paid the Medicare component directly from the Health Insurance Commission.

“This effectively removes the restraint on fees as the patient no longer pays the full amount and collects the rebate from the Medicare office. They might pay less up-front but in the end are paying the same amount with the prospect of an ever-increasing gap.

“The Health Minister said these measures won’t cause GPs to raise their charges but there is nothing to stop them from doing so. In the same way that doctors are free to bulk-bill their patients, they have same choice to boost their rates.

“I have no problem with a higher rebate for doctors and a margin over that for country GPs, but both the Medicare payment and gap should be regulated.

“Unless the gap is fixed to a percentage of the Medicare rebate, and goes up only if the rebate does, low and middle income families will be disadvantaged.

“It will push families into using the already overburdened state public hospitals, achieving a classic cost transfer from federal to state government.

“We should really be talking of a higher Medicare levy to sustain the universal health system Australians want. But neither Labor nor the Coalition dares talk about increasing taxation.

“We can’t have our cake and eat it too and we shouldn’t penalise low to middle income families when our tax system already favours the rich,” Mr Andren said.

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