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Senate agrees to Democrat-initiated Medicare inquiry: ideas on how to strengthen health system.

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Senator Lyn Allison Australian Democrats Health and Ageing Spokesperson 15 May 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/325


The Senate today agreed to an Australian Democrats’ proposal to establish a Select Committee on Medicare that would examine the Government’s proposals and come up with alternatives to strengthen Medicare.

Democrats’ Health Spokesperson, Senator Lyn Allison, the inquiry’s proponent, said, “The Government’s package is fundamentally unfair, and reveals a philosophy of user-pays.

“What we need is a serious consideration of how we go forward. The inquiry will invite those with expertise in the health system to come forward with considered views about how to fix Medicare.”

The Government has made little attempt to consult so far, and Medicare is too important to everyone to leave to ideology.

Senator Allison said, “Medicare needs to be modernised to address long-term issues of increasing health costs arising from an ageing population and increased technology. Immediate issues such as doctor shortage and declining bulk-billing especially in rural areas need to be addressed intelligently.

“Increasing the GP rebate by $5 across the board would be one way to ensure more doctors are in a position to bulk-bill. Building in incentives to charge the scheduled fee may be another.”

Senator Allison said dropping the Lifetime health cover on private health insurance could raise almost $500 million to invest in the Government’s rebate to GPs.

“If we can find clever ways to cover increasing costs for GPs then we will be able to arrest the decline in bulk-billing.”

A report is due to be tabled by 12 August 2003.

Contact: John Derry 0408 056 167


460 Senator Allison: To move—

Senator Lyn Allison Australian Democrats Health and Ageing Spokesperson 15 May 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/325

(1) That a Select Committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Medicare, be appointed to inquire into and report by 12 August 2003 on the following matters: The access to and affordability of general practice under Medicare, with particular regard to: (a) the impact of the current rate of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Practice Incentive Payments on practitioner incomes and the viability of bulk-billing practices; (b) the impact of general practitioner shortages on patients’ ability to access appropriate care in a timely manner, (c) the likely impact on access, affordability and quality services for individuals, in the short- and longer-term, of the following Government-announced proposals: (i) incentives for free care from general practitioners limited to health care card holders or those beneath an income threshold, (ii) a change to bulk-billing arrangements to allow patient co-payment at point of services co-incidental with direct rebate reimbursement, (iii) a new safety net for concession cardholders only and its interaction with existing safety nets, and (iv) private health insurance for out-of-hospital out-of-pocket medical expenses; and (d) alternatives in the Australian context that could improve the Medicare principles of access and affordability, within an economically sustainable system of primary care, in particular: (i) whether the extension of federal funding to allied and dental health services could provide a more cost-effective health care system, (ii) the implications of reallocating expenditure from changes to the private health insurance rebate, and (iii) alternative remuneration models that would satisfy medical practitioners but would not compromise the principle of universality which underlies Medicare.

(2) That the committee consist of 8 senators, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, 1 nominated by the Leader of the Australian Democrats, and 1nominated by minority groups and independent senators.

(3) That the chair of the committee be elected by the committee from the members nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

(4) In the absence of agreement on the selection of a chair, duly notified to the President, the allocation of the chair be determined by the Senate.

(5) That the deputy chair of the committee be elected by and from the members of the committee immediately after the election of the chair.

(6) That the deputy chair act as chair when there is no chair or the chair is not present at a meeting.

(7) That the quorum of the committee be 3 members.

(8) Where the votes on any question before the committee are equally divided, the chairman, or the deputy chairman when acting as chairman, shall have a casting vote.

(9) That the committee and any subcommittee have power to send for and examine persons and documents, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken and such interim recommendations as it may deem fit.

(10) That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 3 or more of its members and to refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to consider.

(11) That the quorum of a subcommittee be 2 members.

(12) That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President.

Senator Lyn Allison Australian Democrats Health and Ageing Spokesperson 15 May 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/325

(13) That the committee be empowered to print from day to day such documents and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.