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Democrats Medicare package: under-funded, ineffective, red tape nightmare.

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Shadow Minister for Health



The Democrats have today announced a Medicare policy that is under-funded, ineffective, and would if implemented be a red tape nightmare.

In reality the Democrats policy is only of academic interest, as Australia’s health system cannot be rebuilt from the Senate. Medicare can only be saved by a Labor government. However, the Democrats should have done better than announcing an unrealistic plan that falls half a billion dollars short of matching Labor’s first down-payment on saving Medicare.

The Democrats keep payments to doctors at the Government’s low rates - just $1.00 per concessional service in metropolitan areas. No incentive will be paid at all until they reach the 80% target - clearly unrealistic in areas where bulk billing has fallen as low as 30%.

Labor’s plan has been independently modelled to achieve bulk billing rates of up to 77%, including both targeted payments and across-the-board incentives to assist doctors. The Democrats’ under-funded plan simply cannot achieve 80% bulk billing rates.

The Democrats’ meek adoption of John Howard’s incentive rates for doctors is a frightening sign of a possible collapse in the Senate. Labor calls on the Democrats to stand firm with Labor and block the Howard Government’s plan for the destruction of Medicare.

Meanwhile, aspects of the new policy will make existing red tape problems worse. The Democrats want to extend bonus payments to non-bulk billed patients, but how will it work? Will the higher rebate be paid to doctors or to patients? How will fees be calculated before the doctor hits the 80% target? What will doctors say to patients over the artificial cap of 7,000 consultations a year who suddenly miss out?

Wholesale changes to the Australian Divisions of General Practice are likely to meet with strident opposition. The Democrats use the Divisions as a panacea for tricky health issues, arbitrarily scrapping existing programs and instead giving them responsibility for everything from GP employment contracts and allied health services to managing local emergency services. The recent review of Divisions called for more clarity over their role in the health system, not less.

Proposals for more trainee nurses are worthy, but Labor’s Aim Higher policy will deliver four times as many additional nurses to the Australian health system.

If the Democrats are serious about health system reform and better health care for all Australians, they should support Labor’s $1.9 billion plan to save Medicare, our plan for health system reform and today’s announcement of Medicare Teams for health hotspots. They should stop tinkering around with a mish-mash of other people’s policies.

For further information contact:

Julia Gillard MP on 0417 361 637 28 October 2003

Jamie Snashall on 0407 438 746