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Medicare inquiry told the 'gap' is getting bigger and bigger.

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Media Release Senator Jan McLucas Labor Senator for Queensland Chair, Senate Select Committee on Medicare

Medicare Inquiry told the ‘gap’ is getting bigger and bigger

Evidence has been given today by health academics and GPs that ‘gap’ charges currently imposed by some doctors are bound to increase under the Government’s so-called ‘A Fairer Medicare’ package.

The Senate Committee inquiring into the Government’s proposed changes to Medicare held a hearing in Newcastle today, where GP bulk billing has dropped by 16% in the last two years.

The Committee was told by Ms Katherine McGrath, CEO of Hunter Health which represents all public hospitals in Newcastle and the Hunter region, that the recent rise in co-payments had led to a growth in public hospital attendance.

An example of this expensive and worrying phenomenon is ante-natal care. Ms McGrath said that public hospitals in Newcastle and the Hunter region have experienced a 10% rise in visits from expectant mothers who attend for check-ups and treatment, because they cannot afford to pay a gap fee to their local GP.

The Committee heard similar evidence today from a range of experts about increasing gap fees preventing Australians from accessing primary health care.

Professor John Marley, Pro Vice Chancellor and member of the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, told the Committee that it is “inevitable” that GPs who opt in to the Government’s package would increase their up-front fees for Australians who are not eligible for a concession card.

This includes families earning no more than $32,300, and the most vulnerable people in society.

Professor Marley explained that if the law is changed to allow GPs to directly bill Medicare as well as to charge a gap fee, this removes the existing incentive for GPs to bulk-bill.

Professor Marley also gave evidence that the situation could arise under the Government’s package whereby patients who have been unable to afford to pay the gap fee they were charged by their GP last time may be barred from making an appointment next time they need to.

The Howard Government’s ‘A Fairer Medicare’ package will remove the cardinal principle from Medicare of universality, and replace it with a user-pays, two-tiered health system.

Only Labor is committed to restoring and resourcing Medicare.

Ends. 23 July 2003

For further information contact: Senator Jan McLucas 0407 169 206 Mary Wood 0421 910 128