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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4122


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (13:11): Whilst a rather animated attack by the member for Lyne—in a very selective way—on one multinational corporation was made in this place rather than in the House, when word drifts back to the Free Enterprise Foundation and Senator Sinodinos, I have a feeling he will be getting a phone call about that outburst. It was against one corporation alone, for reasons that we can see in this debate. Yes, indeed, the attack by the current government on universal health care in this country is manifest and is broad. It has ranged through co-payments and across the $650 million in cuts to Medicare rebates for pathology and diagnostic imaging. It has involved the abandonment of the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health and abolishing the Australian National Preventive Health Agency. Another aspect has been the abolition of the Health and Hospitals Fund, cutting $1 billion. If it has been manifest and broad, then the results have already been manifest and broad as well.

The degree of opposition to this is, indeed, across the spectrum. We have seen a situation where, already, with regard to patients, more than one in seven healthcare fund members used their cover to pay a medical gap last year, which was up from almost one in 10 at the same time last year. A Sydney University analysis has estimated that the Medicare rebate freeze will cost the average full-time GP $9,600 a year from July, rising to $29,500 by 2017. As I say, this is a credible Sydney University analysis. This equates to a 7.1 per cent cut in real terms. Assuming this cut is passed onto non-concessional patients, each visit would cost around $8 more. We have seen a need for doctors to charge patients an extra $2.74 to cover costs from this year, rising to $8 per visit by 2017-18.

Whilst those opposite are making a rather novel attack on pathologists, we note that they are campaigning against government cuts to bulk billing incentives that could see a blood test cost $20 from 1 July. Nearly half a million patients in this country have so far signed a petition. Last week, the industry released a report which showed how it saved the government $2.4 billion last year by providing free tests. The Ernst & Young report shows Australian pathology costs $381 million less than in the USA and $45 million less than in Canada.

Radiologists have produced an analysis that shows cancer patients face gap payments of up to $800 a year for scans when Medicare rebates are slashed from July. The ADIA figures suggest general bulk-billed patients could face up-front costs of up to $101 for an X-ray and $532 for an MRI, and there would still be out-of-pocket expenses of $62 to $172 for MRI patients. Dentists are fighting cuts to the child dental scheme that will see three million Australian children denied access to $1,000 worth of government funded dental care from their family dentist. Instead they will be thrust into the public dental care scheme, where they will queue for up to three years to get treated. The Oral Health Alliance—once again, those opposite will say they are interested parties, that doctors and dentists are all self-interested bludgers on the system; that is the kind of line those opposite are coming out with about the Australian medical fraternity—has calculated that the cuts mean people will get one dental treatment every 17 years or else receive $40 per year for their care. They have publicly labelled the government's new Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme as nothing but smoke and mirrors.

In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 February, two organisations hit by the pathology cuts said that the publicity around the costs alone had already begun to discourage patients from getting tests. The article said:

This trend, and the effect of cuts to fees for Vitamin D tests, which were implemented in 2014, were a drag of interim profits, announced by both companies on Wednesday.

But those opposite will say: 'They're multinationals. It's all lies. It's all false. It's all fabricated.' That is despite the fact that this is supported by disinterested medical research units.

Other federal cuts in last year's MYEFO are also specifically hitting people who otherwise would not access health care. The ABC reported in March this year that the Haymarket Foundation Clinic, a health clinic for Sydney's homeless, has lost annual federal funding of $900,000 and will be closing after more than 40 years of operation. They are not too wealthy, they are not pathologists and radiologists; they are people doing this out of a commitment to the patients. The clinic is staffed by doctors, nurses, welfare workers and a psychologist. The clinic is expected to close its doors shortly.