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Families to pay more under Government's medicare package.

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The Howard Government’s Medicare package will trigger a plunge in bulk billing rates to levels as low as 50% and send out of pocket cost soaring by as much as 56%, a report to the Senate Select Committee on Medicare has found.

By contrast, the report by eminent health economists Professor Stephen Duckett and Professor Hal Swerissen of the Australian Institute for Primary Care at Latrobe University found that Labor’s Medicare package with increases to the Medicare rebate and additional incentives for reaching bulk billing targets, could lift bulk billing rates to around 77% with the average out-of-pocket cost of a GP visit falling up to 25%.

The report was commissioned by the Committee in response to evidence from the Australian Department of Health and Ageing that no modelling had been performed to test the possible inflationary impact of the Government’s Fairer Medicare package.

Professors Swerrisen and Duckett emphasised the role of the Government’s proposed swipe card billing system in enabling doctors to charge patients more. The report found that the current system, which requires doctors to charge patients the full cost of a visit if not bulk billing, acts as an important barrier - a ‘hard threshold’ - to doctors who are considering charging a co-payment.

Without this barrier, and with Government bulk bulling incentives focused only on concession card-holders, many doctors looking to restore declining incomes will find it easier to start charging patients a fee for the first time.

Importantly, the report found that any rise in prices would have the greatest impact on low-income families, who would be most likely not to access the care they need in the face of higher bills.

This information comes in the same week that the AIHW reported that spending on health by Australians from their own pockets has grown by more than 50% since the Howard Government came to office.

The report’s authors explained that they had designed their models around conservative assumptions, and the predicted effects were unlikely to be exaggerated.

Following today’s discussion of the report, the Committee will continue its deliberations and will report to Parliament on 30 October 2003.

/Ends Canbarra 24/09/2003 For further information contact Lesley Russell on 0417 017 427

Media Release Senator Jan McLucas Labor Senator for Queensland