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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 16 August 2018: the soaring costs of health care under the Turnbull Government; Fraser Anning

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SUBJECT/S: The soaring costs of health care under the Turnbull Government; Fraser Anning

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE: Thanks very much for coming out this afternoon. This latest report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare puts a spotlight on the health affordability crisis that is happening in this country. We know that Australians are now paying three billion dollars a year for Medicare rebate-able services, a gap that is expanding. We know they are paying 30 billion dollars a year for health costs. Malcolm Turnbull said that no Australians would pay more to see a doctor under his government. That is clearly absolutely a promise that has been broken. We know that 1.3 million Australians are avoiding seeing a doctor because of costs. Avoiding vital tests and scans and putting their health and their lives at risk as a result of that.

The figures today in the report today also puts the lie to Mr Hunt's claims about bulk billing. Minister Hunt claims that bulk billing and patients have never been better off under this government. What we do know is that only 66 percent of patients going to see GP are being bulk billed and the RACGP has in fact said that only 29 percent of their doctors are bulk billing services. This government has frozen the Medicare rebate for six years. It has done nothing to deal with out-of-pocket costs and it continues to create havoc across our health care system. I'm happy to take questions.

REPORTER: The bulk billing records are at the highest level the government says but out-of-pocket costs are so high, how can that possibly be the case?

KING: Because the statistics the government uses are bulk billing stats for Medicare services. They include pathology, diagnostic imaging, specialists and GP services. Of course each year Medicare services increase and that's why the Minister continues to use the bulk billing rate but does not want to shine a spotlight on what is actually happening on the ground for out-of-pocket costs which the AIHW has released today.

REPORTER: So how would Labor then drive down the cost?

KING: Well we released a couple of things already. The first is in relation to our policy to approve more MRI licenses which provide opportunities for diagnostic imaging for MRI. We also would not have frozen the Medicare benefits schedule across particularly GPs but specialists and other services for six years. We said at the last election we wanted to get rid of that freeze very quickly. The government has kept it on. There are still elements of that freeze alive and well today and don't in fact get lifted until 2020. When you freeze the Medicare rebate, what do you think happens? Patients pay more. That is what the government's done. Three billion dollars have been ripped out of Medicare and now we've seen three billion dollars every single year that patients are paying extra as a gap on top of Medicare rebate-able services.

REPORTER: How concerning is it that 1.3 million Australians delayed seeking medical help because of the cost?

KING: That is the fact that at 1.3 million Australians each year delaying going to see a GP, delaying going to see a specialist, delaying going to get vital tests or scans is incredibly concerning to me as Shadow Health Minister and should be incredibly concerning to any government. What that means for patients is that they are delaying vital care. And often, what we've seen from these statistics is the people who are delaying that vital care are people in some of the poorest communities across this nation, in rural and regional communities and in communities such as the west and western suburbs of some of our towns and cities.

REPORTER: What do you think the Minister then latching on to the Medicare data, is he in denial?

KING: Well I think the Minister needs a wake-up call when it comes to what is happening for out-of-pocket costs for patients in this country. The Minister likes to selectively use statistics as he has done here today. What the minister needs to do is ensure that he is actively working to reduce out-of-pocket costs and immediately lift the rest of his freeze on the Medicare benefits schedule.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

KING: I don't think you saw us doing what the Minister has done today, seek to try and hide from the fact that the AIHW has put out a very significant report on out-of-pocket costs and then the Minister comes out and try and distract attention with those sort of bulk billing rates that he's put out today. I think that what we've heard from the Australian Hospitals and Health Care Association, the AMA and Colleague for GP is consistently over a period of time is that that figure is not the figure anymore that you should be using to actually say what is happening in Australia's health care system.

REPORTER: So what figures should we be using then?

KING: Out-of-pocket costs I think is a significant figure and the report by the AIHW really what's happening for people what are patients having to pay extra to try and see a doctor. But also the GP figures are really the figures that you should be concentrating on. How many GP patients are actually being bulk billed when they go to their GP? And when you've got the RACGP, the Royal Australian College of GP’s saying that only 29 percent of their doctors are bulk billing, that is a concern.

REPORTER: The AIHW report shows that there are huge discrepancies between the amount of cost patients are facing and also the availability of bulk billing in different areas, there are even discrepancies between areas that have a similar socio-economic statues, what do you make of that?

KING: Well I think there needs to be further work to look at that data and that's I think an important part of having a body like the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare release this report and releasing that data and by primary health networks.

I think it is particularly concerning when you see some of the disparities in rural and regional Australia and that can of course come down to access to services and again making sure as a government you're doing all you can to improve access to services but it's also inconsistent across things like diagnostic imaging. If you live in an area where for example you can't get Medicare rebate-able access to MRI then of course that is going to mean that you are paying substantial out-of-pocket costs because there is no other choice for you to access that MRI other than playing or waiting until you can actually drive or get to a service that is actually rebate-able or bulk billed.

REPORTER: What is Labor's plan to get more GPs to bulk bill?

KING: Well we had of course in government bulk billing incentives were actually really important in trying to provide an incentive for people to bulk bill and they worked they worked, they worked when we were in government but what this government has done is them frozen the Medicare rebate, so any benefit that you're getting from the bulk billing incentive is in fact actually lost. The government has still got elements of that freeze still on services up until 2020. Now to freeze the rebate for six years is a huge amount of money ripped out of patient rebates - some three billion dollars and they're still banking some of that savings today. That isn't what you would do to try and make more doctors bulk bill.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

KING: Look I think I'll leave that as a matter for party officials but I think the events of the last two days in terms of the debate around race and I think some of the Katter party's comments about that it certainly been condemned pretty roundly of course. Thanks everybody.