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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1687

Mr McGAURAN(7.39) —I wish to draw the Parliament's attention again to the plight of Victorian bush nursing hospitals under Medicare. I have three bush nursing hospitals in my electorate. They are the Toora bush nursing hospital with manager Mr G. Harrison, the Mirboo North bush nursing hospital with manager Miss Cashin, and the Heyfield bush nursing hospital with manager Mr Scriven. I have visited those bush nursing hospitals since the Medicare debate of 14 September, inspected their facilities and found them to be a credit not only to the managers and to the staff but also to the local communities. The value of these bush nursing hospitals to the local communities is of the utmost importance.

Under Medicare, a person who wishes to attend a bush nursing hospital and who also wants to avoid high hospital costs will have to take out private health insurance. For each day that person spends in a category C bush nursing hospital the hospital will receive a $20 bed subsidy from the Government and an $80 benefit from the health insurance fund. Therefore, the bush nursing hospital will receive total benefits of $100 for each insured patient each day. Country people living in areas serviced by bush nursing hospitals will have several decisions to make. They will have to decide whether to seek treatment at the nearest public hospital and whether to take out private health insurance with a private health fund to cover their time in a bush nursing hospital. If they do not take out private health insurance they must realise that they will be forced to meet the costs of a stay in a bush nursing hospital out of their own pockets.

Mr Cunningham —That has always been the case.

Mr McGAURAN —Let Hansard record the interjection of the honourable member for McMillan so that the Victorian Bush Nursing Association can view his speech of 14 September wherein he told this House that that Association and managers of bush nursing hospitals throughout Gippsland were 'rapt in Medicare'. Regrettably , that is not the advice that I received and I suspect that that is not the advice that the honourable member received.

Mr Brumby —Rubbish!

Mr McGAURAN —Under the new system of Medicare-this is for the information of the honourable member for Bendigo who is also interjecting-rural community people will have to pay the one per cent levy and if they wish to attend a bush nursing hospital they will have to take out extra health insurance. The simple fact is that it is unlikely that many people will pay the one per cent levy and, in addition, take out health insurance to enable them to attend local community bush nursing hospitals. So the problem is that the very survival of rural community hospitals is at stake.

Those who choose to obtain hospital treatment from the nearest public hospital will avoid having to take out private health insurance. But they may have to travel some distances to avail themselves of those publicly provided services. One can easily imagine the problems which might arise when people are hospitalised in a town some distance from their families. This is simply a callous disregard of rural communities in that they are some distance from public hospitals. They have no choice in some instances but to attend the local bush nursing hospitals. This Government is requiring them not only to pay the compulsory one per cent but in addition to take out expensive private health insurance. The honourable member for McMillan should answer that with good conscience to this House and to the bush nursing hospitals throughout Gippsland. I do not feel that he has done that to date.

I have in front of me submissions from the Toora, Mirboo North and Heyfield bush nursing hospitals as well as a submission from a Dr R. Anderson, a well known and respected medical practitioner in the Mirboo North area, which have been forwarded to the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) so that he may further consider the effects of Medicare on bush nursing hospitals. The reasons that the Minister ought to reconsider the effects of Medicare on bush nursing hospitals are very obvious to anybody but the Australian Labor Party members judging from the interjections that they have made this evening. Bush nursing hospitals provide employment. They keep local general practitioners in rural communities and, in addition, long term patients can remain near their homes. The other thing that must be taken into account-again I feel I must spell this out for honourable members opposite-is that there is no public transport of any real kind in the three areas that I have mentioned-Toora, Mirboo North and Heyfield. Therefore, if families are to visit long term patients, in particular, who, because of the Medicare arrangements, must go to the nearest public hospitals, it will create financial and social inconvenience.

I simply urge the Minister to reconsider the effects of Medicare on bush nursing hospitals and to consider very carefully these excellent submissions by the three bush nursing hospitals I have mentioned. I would be very surprised and very disappointed if country members of the Government did not support the submissions that have been vigorously made on behalf of bush nursing hospitals.