Transcript of Media Conference - Dr Kerryn Phelps, AMA President, Parliament House, Canberra - AMA Federal Budget Submission 2003-2004

13 Feb 2003

E & O E - Proof Only

PHELPS: Thank you all for coming, it's that time of year again when we talk about what's coming up in the budget. And the point that we would like to make today is that health must be focused as a very high priority in the coming May budget.

The AMA has put forward its submission for the budget to the government, and we see the major priorities as refocussing the health budget. There does need to be more money put into health. You can't, as senior Ministers suggested in December of last year, have a health budget that doesn't increase year by year. You have the extra cost of technology, we have a growing ageing population, and we have greater expectations of our health system year by year.

We are calling for continued growth of the PBS, we are calling for support for general practice, including the White Paper, and we're looking for support for indigenous Australians and for the public hospital system. A continuation of the private hospital rebate, private health rebate. We're also looking for support in the area of medial indemnity.

We believe that the cost of health continues to increase. In order to support Medicare appropriately the government does need to continue to increase its outlays in the area of health.

I'm happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: You say in your submission that you want to increase the Medicare levy. The sort of things that you're looking at, it looks like you need to double it almost from one and a half to three per cent, is that the order of what you're looking at? Doubling the Medicare levy?

PHELPS: I think we'd really need to look at what you're needing to spend in health to achieve the outcomes that you desire. Now, it should come as no great surprise that the Medicare levy ought to go into funding the shortfall in health. I should make the point that the Medicare levy doesn't go anywhere close to covering the cost of the health system.

Increasing the levy would only go some way to addressing the shortfalls in funding as it currently stands.

QUESTION: But what sort of increase are you talking about? You must have some broad idea?

PHELPS: Yeah, I could ask Roger Kilham, who is from Access Economics - he's in the room at the moment - as to the level that would be needed to cover the funding shortfalls at the moment. Roger?

KILHAM: Well, I think you're probably looking at something like about ......?

PHELPS: When did they last ...

QUESTION: Sorry I'm just, I just want to know when the red and the green and the blue dissect - what year's that?

PHELPS: Oh that's back in 1985.

QUESTION: So that's when it was last fair according to the AMA?

PHELPS: 1985 things looked reasonably fair, and it went downhill from there.

QUESTION: Dr Phelps, just in relation to again the idea of the, whether there's universality in terms of bulkbilling availability or there's been this idea around for quite some time that the government may move to a system where they understand and expect that higher income earners will pay an out of pocket fee, that they provide incentives to bulkbill for healthcare cards or so on or whatever.

Did you raise in your talks last week your concerns about that specific, did Senator Patterson say anything about that specific idea of incentive payments for GPs to bulkbill low income earners and your concerns of how your members are working that?

PHELPS: Look, the issue was raised in broad terms, but the point I made is the one I've made to you today, and that is that GPs don't want more hoops to have to jump through. They don't want more administration costs.

It's reached a point where GPs just need to assess in their own businesses what it costs them to run the practice and you know to be able to make a reasonable living and that's what they have to charge their patients.

But what we're stuck with is this issue of looking after people who are genuinely disadvantaged or who have high healthcare needs. And that's where the GPs run into this big dilemma, because they know that they're subsidising Medicare - happy to do so for disadvantaged patients - provided that there is reasonable remuneration across the board.

But if you happen to be in an area where 90 or 95% of your patients are deemed to be disadvantaged then that system just can't work.

QUESTION: Kerryn can you tell us about Moduretic and why spin bowlers shouldn't be using that to lose weight?

PHELPS: Elite athletes know that they cannot take anything - whether it's prescribed, over the counter or otherwise - without first checking with the Australian Sports Drug Agency as to whether that substance is appropriate to be taken for sport.

Now any elite athlete knows that their entire career could hinge on taking a tablet that is banned in sport.

The Australian Sports Drug Agency have a hotline that is open 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, and it's also open nine till five on weekends and public holidays. So there really isn't an excuse for an athlete not to check and not to know ...

QUESTION: But his Mum gave it to him.

PHELPS: His Mum could ring the hotline. I mean you can't use Mum as an excuse, because Mum could call the hotline, and any parents of elite athletes out there, who are even slightly tempted to give their athletic offspring a tablet to take, ring the hotline and find out whether it's okay for your offspring to take this tablet, and be involved in sport. Because chances are they're gonna get tested. If they get tested and they've taken a banned substance they'll be sprung and they may well be banned from sport.

QUESTION: If Shane Warne were your patient and he came into your consultancy rooms today, what would you tell him?

PHELPS: I'd say don't take your Mum's tablets. I don't care who anybody is, they don't take somebody else's prescribed medication for a start, and if you're an athlete, for goodness sake check first before you take anything.

There's even a wallet size card from the ASDA that athletes can carry around with them which says what is safe to take for different types of conditions.

Now, you know, Shane Warne has said that he didn't take the diuretic for part of his shoulder treatment, so goodness knows what he was taking it for - unless he had PMS.

Any other questions. We'll wind it up there.


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