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Transcript of doorstop: The Children's Hospital, Melbourne: Thursday 24 July 2003: Medicare.

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Shadow Minister for Health



Subject: Medicare

GILLARD: Today in Melbourne the Senate Select Committee is inquiring into the Government’s attempts to kill Medicare. We know from the May budget that the Howard Government wants to destroy Medicare. Labor introduced Medicare. The backbone of Medicare has always been bulk billing, and the Government’s proposal is to destroy bulk billing for ordinary Australian families. This would institutionalise forever a two-tiered health system where doctors are forced to check your wallet before they check your heartbeat, where doctors are forced to ask you for a credit card before they ask you for a Medicare card.

Today we’re announcing a further blow to the Government’s attempts to kill Medicare, and that is the fact that general practitioners don’t want to cooperate with the Government’s plans to end Medicare.

We are releasing today a letter obtained from the South Australian Division of General Practice, the body that represents general practitioners in South Australia, who tomorrow are boycotting a Government seminar on its package to kill Medicare.

The South Australian doctors are boycotting this seminar because they believe their very attendance at it would imply that they support the Government’s package and its plans to destroy Medicare.

They’ve also described the seminar as a waste of time and a waste of money.

I think this is important information, particularly today when we have the Senate Select Committee furthering its inquiry into Medicare and the Howard Government’s plans.

I would also note that Minister Pike, the Victorian Minister, is appearing before the Senate Select Committee today. She has very compelling evidence that what is already happening as the Howard Government has sat back watching Medicare die, is that people who can’t get access to a bulk billing doctor, who can’t afford to pay doctors’ fees, are coming to hospitals and ending up in emergency departments looking for treatment.

This is obviously bad for the individuals involved, who should be able to see a GP irrespective of whether or not they’ve got the money. It’s also bad for our public hospitals to


have emergency departments full up with people who could have been seen elsewhere in the health system and causing longer queues for people who have got acute medical needs.

I also note that the Royal College of General Practitioners at the inquiry today has said that what would save Medicare is an increase in the Medicare rebate. Labor’s $1.9 billion Medicare plan includes an increase in the rebate by five dollars to get doctors bulk billing again and to save Medicare. It of course also includes targeted incentives to get doctors bulk billing in outer urban areas and in rural and regional Australia, where bulk billing rates have been in fundamental decline, are in absolute free fall.

But the main point today is to indicate that it’s not only the Labor Party that doesn’t want to see a two-tiered health system. It’s not only ordinary Australian families that don’t want to see a two-tiered health system. It’s our general practitioners who don’t want to see a two-tiered health system and are indicating that by their refusal to attend the Government’s seminar in South Australia tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: What’s an appropriate level for the Medicare rebate?

GILLARD: Labor’s plan includes taking the Medicare rebate to 95% of the Schedule Fee and ultimately 100% of the Schedule Fee, together with a targeted package of incentives to get GPs bulk billing again.

We think that would be a down payment on getting bulk billing rates up around 80%, which is where they were when Labor was in Government and Medicare was healthy.

JOURNALIST: Should the rebate on private health insurance be continued?

GILLARD: The private health insurance rebate is obviously costing the Government a lot of money, about $2.4 billion. Labor has said that it will review the private health insurance rebate. We understand that that’s one of the elements of our health care system that needs to

be looked at, but we also understand from the point of view of ordinary Australian families, that the private health insurance rebate isn’t a big picture health policy. It’s actually just an element in balancing the annual family budget, and we’ll be taking that into account.

JOURNALIST: Do you know how many doctors were planning to go to the meeting originally and subsequently how many are boycotting?

GILLARD: We don’t know how many were intending to go. We do know that the resolution by the South Australian general practitioners through their Division of General Practice was unanimous to boycott the meeting.

JOURNALIST: And do you think their feelings are indicative of general practitioners across Australia?

GILLARD: All I can say is, I don’t believe there would be anything that would make South Australian General Practitioners different from others.

In the last two-and-a-half weeks I’ve been in Tennant Creek, in Katherine, in Launceston, and in Burnie, as well as in metropolitan Melbourne talking to GPs, and I know that their opposition to being forced to introduce a two-tiered system for health care is large. Doctors want to do the right thing by their patients. Doctors care about their patients, and they want


the Government to find a solution which means they can continue to allow people to access quality medicine at the GP’s practice, and Labor’s plan to save Medicare does that.

JOURNALIST: Who’s organised this boycott?

GILLARD: The boycott’s been organised by the South Australian Division of General Practice, which is the representative body of general practitioners in South Australia. They are refusing to attend a Government-sponsored meeting tomorrow on the Howard Government’s plans to kill Medicare from the May budget.

JOURNALIST: The meeting is being held where, in Adelaide?

GILLARD: Adelaide, South Australia.

JOURNALIST: So this is the Federal Government’s meeting, who organised the meeting?

GILLARD: Yes, it’s organised by the Federal Department of Health.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

GILLARD: Well, clearly, Labor doesn’t support the Government’s plans to introduce a two-tiered health system, a health system where you get a better go if you’re rich and a worse go if you’re poor, and I believe this decision by the general practitioners in South Australia indicates they don’t support that system either.

JOURNALIST: Is there any indication that other Divisions or other States are going to follow suit?

GILLARD: At this stage we are releasing the correspondence from the South Australian General Practitioners. Obviously these decisions would be made on a State-by-State basis. We don’t have further information about other States today, but as I say, having travelled the country in the last two-and-a-half weeks, general practitioners have told me wherever I go that they are not supportive of the Howard Government’s plans from the May budget.


24 July 2003

For further information contact: Jamie Snashall on 0407 438 746