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Senate passes legislation for MedicarePlus package; original architect of Medicare says only around 5 per cent of population will benefit.

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Thursday 11 March 2004

Senate passes legislation for MedicarePlus package; original architect of Medicare says only around 5 per cent of population will benefit


TONY EASTL EY: The Government's decision to commit nearly $2.9 billion more to Medicare is predicted to give extra help to up to half a million Australians. 


The MedicarePlus package, was only secured for passage through the Senate, after the Minister for Health came up with an extra $427 million, just enough to woo four balance of power senators.  


The Medicare package is being hailed by the Government and areas of the health profession as a new direction for universal health care in this country, but others aren't so happy with it. 


Tanya Nolan reports. 


TANYA NOLAN: The original architect of Medicare has this morning declared his system of universal health care, as officially dead. 


Professor John Deeble says the plan he came up with under the Whitlam Government  

aimed to keep bulk billing as high as possible for everyone and with the same conditions for everyone 


Now he says only around 5 per cent of Australians will benefit from Medicare. 


JOHN DEEBLE: The duel safety net just confirms and strengthens that because the safety net has also got a duel thing, not based on health care need or health care use, but based on the income of people. 


TANYA NOLAN: And one of the measures which sits most uncomfortably with Professor Deeble is the incentive payment being offered to GPs to bulk bill concession card holders and patients aged under 16. 


JOHN DEEBLE: The Government is going to for the first time ever actually going to pay what the doctor, 95 per cent really, of what the doctor charges without question and that's a bad thing because once you get on that roller coaster where do you stop? 


TANYA NOLAN: Rural GPs are among the winners from the deal struck with the Senate. Doctors in the regions and outer metropolitan areas will be given an incentive payment of $7.50, compared to the $5 being offered to their city counterparts. 


President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia Sue Page describes the new package as MedicarePlus plus.  


SUE PAGE: The differential rebate in rural areas recognises formally that the cost of running a practice are high in the rural area and if you really want to make health care more affordable you have to do something on a geographical area in order to be able to meet some of those costs. 


This $7.50 incentive, I've already canvassed a number of people in my local area, particularly targetting private billing practices, who now say this will make a difference to their billing patterns. 


TANYA NOLAN: The Australian Medical Association sees it very differently, describing the differential system as unfair and unjust and Vice President Mukesh Haikerwal says it undermines the universality of the system. 


MUKESH HAIKERWAL: The significance of having a differential rebate based on regional areas, or being a resident of Tasmania, really is a very poor signal for the future. It means that some Australians are more equal than other Australians and we see this as a very sad move. 


If we need incentives to keep people working in certain areas we need to incentivise those areas. If people are actually missing out on services because the rebates are insufficient that needs to be addressed. The safety net goes same way towards addressing that, but really by having a differential rebate we're not actually going to achieve an awful lot of success. 


TANYA NOLAN: Is this going to leave open more options for doctors in metropolitan areas to raise their prices to patients? 


MUKESH HAIKERWAL: I don't think the scare mongering by the Labor Party or the Greens or anyone else that doctors are all of a sudden going to raise their fees is going to come to pass, I think doctors have been very ethical in the way they've managed their affairs and have been very careful to make sure that patients don't miss out. 


TONY EASTLEY: Dr Mukesh Haikerwal is Vice President of the Australian Medical Association. He was speaking there with Tanya Nolan.