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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26146

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Hill. I ask the minister whether he is aware of a survey by the Australian Medical Association that has found that 60 per cent of general practitioners who are signed up to the Department of Veterans' Affairs Local Medical Officer Scheme are on the verge of withdrawing their services to veterans because of the inadequacy of the rebate that is provided to them. I also ask the minister whether he is aware that the same survey found 86 per cent of those GPs said that the funding of the scheme by the government does not reflect the special care and time that veterans need to have their health issues addressed. Can the minister assure the parliament and, indeed, veterans that proper funding will be provided by this government to ensure that the significant and special health needs of veterans are properly addressed or does this government's commitment to veterans only extend as far as the photo opportunity at the welcome home parade?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —In the 2003 federal budget the government committed $61.7 million over four years to continue the Local Medical Officer Scheme. Under the new scheme, eligible GPs now receive a veteran access fee of $3.05 for each item of service for gold and white cardholders. This is in addition to 100 per cent of the Medicare benefits schedule fee paid for the treatment of veterans. At present about 15,700 GPs are registered under the LMO Scheme, which is approximately 2,200 more than were in the scheme prior to 1 July 2003. This is a sign of the great support being offered by GPs, which does not surprise me. All my anecdotal experience has been that doctors are very supportive of the veteran community, and the government appreciates that. It does mean that veterans and war widows can be assured of free, comprehensive health care. As I said, the government values this longstanding and successful partnership with GPs and welcomes their continued support. As with all our veteran health arrangements, the government keeps a close eye on the delivery and impact of the scheme and the government stands by its record on veteran health care—a massive increase from $1.7 billion in 1996 to $4.4 billion in 2004 and 2005.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister: how can he possibly say that the government says to veterans and war widows that they can be assured of receiving full medical care when the majority of the people who are providing that care are saying that they are likely to withdraw from the scheme that provides it? How can the minister expect anything other than such a situation when the rebate paid to general practitioners for a number of items, including level A consultations, is actually less than what they would receive through the MedicarePlus rebate for non-veterans, despite the significant complexity of the health needs of many veterans? Does the minister also recognise the concerns expressed by Dr Graeme Killer, the Principal Medical Adviser to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, who acknowledges the concerns of general practitioners and acknowledges that the MedicarePlus incentives actually make the package for GPs no more attractive? (Time expired)

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As I said, the government is very sensitive to these issues. It understands and appreciates the significant contribution made by GPs and accepts the importance of providing quality health care to our veteran community. I hear what the honourable senator says about some GPs being unhappy with the payment but, as I said, as opposed to the survey results, in fact 2,200 additional general practitioners have joined the scheme since July 2003. So, despite what appears from the survey results, in actual fact more GPs are coming on board and offering their valuable services to the veteran community. I will refer the points made by Senator Bartlett to the minister. At least I think the Senate can be confident, on the basis of what is happening in practice, that the medical community continues to support the scheme and continues to provide quality health care for the veteran community. (Time expired)