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Government cuts to Medicare slammed by patients and doctors.



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Media Release Senator Jan McLucas Labor Senator for Queensland

GOVERNMENT CUTS TO MEDICARE SLAMMED BY PATIENTS AND DOCTORS

At a public hearing today in Brisbane, health practitioners and consumers alike spoke of the grievous damage the Howard Government is inflicting on Australia’s world-class health system

Dr Bill Glasson, President of the Australian Medical Association, conceded to the Senate Select Committee on Medicare that there were “philosophical” problems with the Government’s proposal to allow GPs to claim the Medicare rebate from the Commonwealth as well as to charge patients a gap fee.

The majority of health economists including Professor John Deeble, the original architect of Medicare, have told the Committee that allowing GPs to claim the rebate directly as well as charge patients a fee will lead to higher and higher fees over time.

While the AMA does not agree that higher fees will result from the Howard Government’s proposed liberalisation of GP billing practices, Professor Glasson’s admission is highly significant.

It is the first time this fundamental change and the “philosophical” problems associated with it have been acknowledged by the AMA.

The Committee was also given evidence from the Queensland Government that there has been an 11.6% growth in the 4 years to June 2003 of Australians with relatively minor health problems presenting to Emergency Departments.

Health Minister Wendy Edmond MP produced statistical evidence of the direct correlation between the increase in the number of Australians turning up for treatment in public hospitals for triage 4 or 5 or low priority conditions, and the drop in bulk-billing in Queensland.

Bulk-billing dropped by 16.7% across Queensland between September 2000 and March 2003.

The human face of these statistics was given in evidence from the Public Hospitals and Medicare Alliance of Queensland and the Health Consumers Network.

In one instance cited, a nurse who suffers from asthma and knew she needed antibiotics to treat a chest infection at the weekend was told by a GP after-hours service that she would be charged $220 for a consultation after 4 pm on Sunday.

Knowing she needed treatment to ward off an asthma attack, and not able to afford the fee for the after-hours GP, this woman presented at the local Emergency Department instead.

Only the Labor Party is committed to Medicare, as our $1.9 billion rescue package to restore bulk billing and increase the attractions of general practice shows.

For comment or to interview Senator McLucas, contact Mary Wood on 0438 983 908