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The Hon Michael Danby MP
Federal Member for Melbourne Ports

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (16:02): This six-year freeze on Medicare rebates is gradually and sneakily undermining Medicare and is set to continue with the Prime Minister's plan to extend it out to 2020. The government's attitude is characterised by relentless attacks on our iconic health system. This government came to power with a plan to undermine Medicare. How could we forget this government's first budget—a budget littered with heartless measures aimed at our nation's most vulnerable people? At the very beginning it became clear that the government wanted to weaken and privatise Medicare. The measures in that budget were astonishing. There was a $7 sick tax—a tax that would have immediately transformed Medicare from a service helping our sick into a tax on our sick; increased cost for medication on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; and encouragement for states and territories to charge a co-payment for GP equivalent visits to hospital emergency services.

The government introduced this freeze in 2014 and in 2016, as I said, the Prime Minister himself extended it out to 2020. This 'ice age', as the member for Ballarat has described it, has had a massive effect on our health system. Out-of-pocket costs are higher than they have ever been and GPs have already been forced to increase fees and drop bulk-billing. As AMA President Michael Gannon said, 'The freeze is hurting now and it should have been dropped a long time ago.' To quote him verbatim, on 1 July 2016 he said:

We know there are some GPs that are changing their billing practices and that commences today, on July 1. The reality is that there are a lot of GPs who decided they could probably take the hit for a couple of years but they are saying enough's enough.

As the member for Ballarat says, the trajectory of bulk-billing is declining, access is more difficult and costs are increasing.

This time the government are going through the back door as a way of destroying Medicare. They want to make people pay more, not through the measures outlined in the zombie bills that are still in the Senate but by reducing the real earnings of doctors over time. Going all the way back to Fraser, the LNP has, like a Trump administration, opposed what they think is socialised medicine. Their current tactic is no longer to attack it head on but to index payments received by our medical professionals from Medicare. In other words, as inflation pushes prices up, doctors receive no increase in the value of their payments and are forced to charge their patients. The government's unfair health policies, rejected by millions of people at the last election, need to be dropped—the increase in the PBS co-payments, the cuts to diagnostic imaging and pathology and the cuts to the Medicare safety net.

The day before the election, Prime Minister Turnbull promised that no Australian would pay more to see a GP under the Medicare freeze. This was a lie. Australians are already paying more for GPs and out-of-pocket expenses for health are increasing. The current government is making health care less affordable for every Australian, with the Medicare freeze already forcing GPs to drop bulk-billing, as I have explained, and increase out-of-pocket costs. The Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, is also cutting $1.3 from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and increasing the co-payment by up to $5—the biggest increase for prescription medicine in a decade.

As the member for Richmond valuably added, cuts to bulk-billing incentives—the payments which give pathologists and radiologists a specific incentive to bulk-bill—will mean that bulk-billing rates will fall, co-payments will rise and patients will be forced to pay more for tests and scans or skip them altogether, which is something that really worries me with Australia's tradition of preventative health care. The government's failure to properly fund our public hospitals has seen elective surgery waiting times blow out under this Prime Minister—the worst we have seen since records started to be kept in 2001. The $1.4 billion cuts to preventative health and health promotion grants are forcing community organisations to close their doors, including organisations which target HIV prevention in young people and LGBTI health in Indigenous communities.

Millions of voters rejected the Prime Minister's health cuts at the last election. Medicare is a universal health system—as the member for Bass pointed out—as imagined by the great Gough Whitlam. It will be preserved only by the election of a Shorten Labor government, with the member for Ballarat as the Minister for Health.

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