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Senator Lyn Allison

Australian Democrats

Health and Ageing Spokesperson th 18 November 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/824

Democrats to pursue talks on Medicare plus

The Australian Democrats say the Federal Government has backed away from the worst aspects of its original proposal and taken on board some of the Democrat proposals.

Democrats’ Health Spokesperson, Senator Lyn Allison, said the incentives to bulk-bill children, increases for nurses in primary health care and public responsibility for the safety net rather than a reliance on private health insurance was positive.

Senator Allison said, “We are pleased that the Government is investing more money into Medicare and is addressing the acute shortage of doctors in many areas.

“The recruitment of GPs only from other first world countries is ethically sound and commendable, although the figures look very optimistic given that other countries face the same difficulties as Australia.

“Overall, it is disappointing that the Government does not expect its package to significantly increase bulk billing rates and we are unlikely to see a return to 80%.”

(The figures show that the Government expects that only half of all consultations will receive the extra $5 rebate. If all services were to receive a rebate increase of $5 then costs of this would be nearly $500m per year).

Other problems identified by the Democrats: • Lack of targeting for areas of low levels of bulk billing in the rebate increase • No proposal to extend Medicare to other allied health professionals • More flexible, innovative and cost-effective ways of delivering good care have not been adopted. • No encouragement for nurse practitioners or Commonwealth funding for infrastructure in areas

where doctor shortages are acute.

The Democrats will still push for reform of the Divisions of GPs to make them more responsive to local needs.

Senator Allison said, “The doctors’ response to this package is crucial. If this package fails to stem the decline in bulk-billing then we will return to a system reliant on charity and welfare safety nets.

“Whilst we support the expansion of the safety net, reaching the threshold will still be onerous for some people and a sound, publicly funded system should not need to be propped up by safety nets.

“Over 600,000 families suffered this year in having to repay Family Tax Benefit debts to Centrelink due to an inherently poor policy design. It is unfortunate that the Government has decided to use this flawed system as the benchmark for its safety net.

“The package is, overall, an improvement but as much of the package as possible should be in the Medicare legislation. The Democrats will continue talks with the Government before making firm commitments,” Senator Allison concluded.

Media Contact: John Derry 03 9416 1880