Prime Minister confirms need for Medicare 'safety net'

3 Mar 2003

AMA President, Dr Kerryn Phelps, said today the AMA welcomes comments by the Prime Minister in Question Time that support AMA calls for a Medicare 'safety net' to ensure affordable access to basic health care for pensioners, low income families and the chronically ill.

Dr Phelps said she agrees with the Prime Minister that health care has never been free in Australia.

"In Question Time today, the Prime Minister quoted the following from the 1983 Medicare policy: 'Doctors will be free to choose their method of billing patients. They can charge the patient nothing and recover 85 per cent of the scheduled fee directly from the public funds. It is expected that doctors will use this bulk billing procedure for pensioners, low-income patients, the chronically ill and those in need'.

"Health care has never been free. Australians have always paid for it through their taxes and, more recently, greater numbers of people are paying a co-payment to see their doctor because of the inadequacy of the Medicare patient rebate.

"The fact of the matter is that bulk billing is not sustainable.

"The decline in bulk billed GP services is accelerating right across Australia.

"While more Australians become accustomed to co-payments, there remains the need for the Government to implement a 'safety net' system to look after the poorest and the sickest in the community.

"The Government must take on this role. At the moment, doctors are looking after the health needs of disadvantaged patients, often discounted based on the doctors' perception of their patients' financial situation.

"In the past two days, the Prime Minister has confirmed there is a doctor shortage and that there is a need for a Medicare 'safety net'.

"The AMA is keen to see these observations translated into policy to provide enough doctors to care for all Australians, now and into the future, in an equal and affordable way.

"Any attempts to maintain so-called universal bulk-billing are in vain.

"The Opposition, too, should abandon any belated attempt to turn around the inevitable demise of bulk billing and instead turn its attention to a workable safety net," Dr Phelps said.

CONTACT: John Flannery (02) 6270 5477 / (0419) 494 761

Judith Tokley (02) 6270 5471 / (0408) 824 306

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