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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21340

Senator LEES (10:36 AM) —Obviously, I have to disagree most strongly with most of what Senator Nettle has said. Again, she is confusing the issue of the $5 and the $7.50, which all four of us have said we would have preferred to have stretched further. This government was simply not going to. That went through last year. Senators, you are well and truly aware of that. The $5 for some and not for others was passed in this chamber with only two senators dissenting in December last year. The issue we are dealing with today is that of the two new safety nets. The safety net the Labor Party put into Medicare when they designed it is out of date. It does not work for most people who have large medical expenses. They do not reach eligibility for it because you can count only the difference between what you get back from Medicare and the schedule fee. If the schedule fee is $100 and you get $15 back, that is fine. But, if the schedule fee is $100 and you are charged $200, you cannot count at the moment that additional $100. That is why we need new safety nets.

The four of us have managed to drag down the safety net from $400 to $300, and fix it at $300, which means that those people who have large out-of-pocket expenses—and some 12 million family units are in the group eligible for the $300 safety net—can get 80 per cent of them back. I say to Senator Nettle: even if last year this chamber had been able to get the government to offer across the board a $5 incentive for every bulk-billing service, we would still need the safety net because only 10 per cent of the safety net covers additional GP charges. The rest of it goes to addressing the cost of attending specialists, and there is nothing before us from this government to encourage bulk-billing from specialists or to even help people cope with what specialists charge by way of extra fees. The safety net is primarily not for GP out-of-pocket expenses but to help people with the huge amount they pay when, for example, they need radiology, surgery, an anaesthetist et cetera. The issue we are dealing with today is whether we stick with the old safety net in Medicare—which is not adequate—or put in two new safety nets that give Australian families greater security and at least the opportunity of getting 80 per cent of additional costs back if they reach the threshold.