SKY NEWS Transcript - Medicare Freeze; plebiscite; Indigenous health; Angry GPs
AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, with Patricia Karvelas, “The Issue”, SKY NEWS Live, 2 October 2016
AMA relationship with Government, Medicare rebate freeze, Medicare outsourcing, same sex marriage plebiscite, Indigenous health, GPs
PATRICIA KARVELAS: In tonight's edition of ‘The Issue’, the future of health policy in the nation's health system. The Australian Medical Association's President, Dr Michael Gannon, is my guest. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
MICHAEL GANNON: Good evening, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You promised to repair the AMA's relationship with the Coalition, which you've said has been partly damaged by speaking out on asylum seekers. Has it been repaired?
MICHAEL GANNON: I think we've got a reasonable dialogue. We still disagree with a large number of their policies. There's the rotting carcass of the Medicare freeze just standing as a barrier between good relationships between the AMA, their GP members, other specialist members, and the Government. We'll continue to work constructively on that issue and all others.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Let's get to that ‘rotting carcass’, using your language here, a direct quote to be clear, but on that policy area, the Government was certainly warned about it, as we know, during the campaign, the Mediscare campaign.
We've since had the Director of the Liberal Party deliver a speech to the National Press Club saying that the Mediscare campaign was unfair, and really argue that it was not based on any truth. Given that speech that was delivered, do you think there was any indication that the Government will revisit this issue?
MICHAEL GANNON: I think the Government simply has to revisit this issue.
I cannot imagine the Coalition Government going to another election with that trust deficit on Medicare that exists. I think that unravelling the freeze would be a start, but I would expect to see the Coalition, if they've got any desires on being re-elected, having a very strong health policy that they're prepared to talk about in the election campaign.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is calling for a compromise deal to partially lift the Medicare rebate freeze. Do you support a sort of partial deal as they've articulated?
MICHAEL GANNON: I think any movement would be welcome. We know that it's our GP members who are hurting most with the freeze, but it affects all elements of private medical practice because the private health insurers use the MBS schedule as a way of calculating their fees. And there's been limited or no indexation on that front.
We would welcome any movement. It's not the only issue in the health system, but unravelling the freeze is important in reconnecting this government with GPs.
So we would welcome any movement, but it needs to be the beginning of a wider conversation on how we future-proof Medicare so that it's still fit for purpose in 20 to 25 years’ time as the population ages and the incidence of chronic disease continues to grow.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, talked, and so did the Health Minister, about those reports last week claiming that the Government was planning to outsource Medicare rebate processing. They've argued that that is all false. Are you confident that it is all false and that that processing system is robust?
MICHAEL GANNON: What I said during the election campaign is that privatising or outsourcing the payment system does not equate to privatising Medicare. That formed the basis in many ways to Mediscare, which was cynical.
But, at the same time, the Coalition needs to front up to the fact that they did lay the ground for the Mediscare campaign with a number of policies that tended to show that they were … and used by the Labor Party … that they didn't care about the access of ordinary Australians to visits to their GP, subsidised visits to have diagnostic imaging, pathology tests, and also a breach in trust on public hospital funding.
So I think that there are no winners in this story. What we want to see is substantial investments in the things in the heath portfolio that not only are morally right, but they make economic sense too. A healthier population is a more productive one.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on a few other issues, nearly 200 doctors and health workers have joined calls for the Turnbull Government to ditch its planned plebiscite on same sex marriage. Do you support their call?
MICHAEL GANNON: I think this is a matter for the Australian people. I've listened to other people you've interviewed this evening on the topic. There are - this is perhaps the most important issue for many people in our community. For other people it's less important, and they want the Government to get on with governing. I think that it's an important discussion for society to have.
As the leader of Australian doctors, I would say that any form of discrimination is unhealthy. I would like to see us move forward. The AMA doesn't have strong statements on this. I would guess like on a number of other social issues that our members would have a wide range of views on this, but I think it's clearly an issue that's important to many individuals in our community. I'd like to see it resolved once and for all.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But Dr Gannon, do you support a plebiscite? I mean, on a personal level do you think that would be a better way to resolve it?
MICHAEL GANNON: Look, I'm keen for the Government to get on with looking at the health policies that affect all Australians. I don't think we should be distracted from any issue.
I would - it's certainly not my job to advise the Government on a better move forward. I accept the arguments that the Coalition took an idea of a plebiscite to the election. I accept the Labor Party and the Greens arguments are ‘let's get on and vote with it’.
Look, I'm here to talk about health policy. And the extent to which discrimination against any member of the community is a health issue, I would like to see this issue resolved. I don't think it's my job to make personal commentary on it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, fair enough, but on another issue that I know you are passionate about, you've talked about it before. On Indigenous health, do you think the Government is doing enough to close the gap? Do you have concerns about the way that the Government is approaching these issues?
MICHAEL GANNON: Well, we can always do better. One thing that I don't think you can criticise a Government from either side for a generation is not putting the funds into Indigenous health, and I don't think there's been any lack of compassion for the very real gaps.
We've seen some wins in recent years and yet some of the statistics make for very upsetting and sobering reading. I think that one thing that is really important is that Aboriginal controlled organisations are involved in the decision making. I think that the closer the money is to the patient, whether you're talking about Indigenous health or non-Indigenous health, it's so important.
We haven't always had great value for money in this area. It's time that the investment worked, so that we see the closing of the gap in life expectancy, in perinatal mortality, in infant mortality, in any other important measure of success in the health area.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: When's your next significant meeting with the Health Minister to pursue the issues, particularly as we say on the Medicare freeze?
MICHAEL GANNON Well, not only have I met with the Minister recently, but myself and other AMA representatives are meeting with the Department on a whole range of issues, whether that's potential reforms to private health insurance, whether that's the proposal for Health Care Homes, whether it's the Medicare freeze.
The Minister had a fairly frosty reception when she attended the RACGP's annual conference this week.
She would have heard very clearly the anxiety of GPs about the freeze, the anxiety of the GPs for the latest proposal to reform pathology rents.
GPs are angry. They want to see action. There's a breach of trust with GPs. It's time to recognise that they form the basis of our health system, and investment in primary care is an investment that ultimately results in reduced spending in the much more expensive public and private hospital systems.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Dr Gannon, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
MICHAEL GANNON: That's a pleasure, Patricia.