Medicare is sacred to Labor. We initiated it in 1975, and then reinstated it after the coalition had abolished it in the Fraser-Howard years. We have defended Medicare from attacks by those on the other side for over 50 years, so it's somewhat ironic that this self-congratulatory motion notes the government's commitment to Medicare. It's a bit like Count Dracula reaffirming his commitment not to interfere with the blood bank.
It may well be that after 50 years of trying to sabotage or abolish Medicare that those on the other side have seen how loved and entrenched Medicare is in the Australian psyche, but somehow I doubt this new-found commitment. Like superannuation, there are those in the coalition right wing and think tanks like the IPA who continue to fantasise about dismantling what they see as a social experiment. You don't have to look far back to see examples: only July last year, a business mate of the coalition, Mark Fitzgibbon, CEO of nib, proposed Medicare be abolished and private health insurance be made compulsory. Minister Hunt shot the proposal down pretty quickly with a commitment to Medicare for life forever, but just say we get yet another ideological shift in the Liberal Party: how safe will their commitment to Medicare be?
The self-congratulations in this motion tell us only part of the story. It hides the truth about what is going on with Medicare and the health system. It hides the enormous pressure on our public health system and emergency departments across the country. It hides the developing crisis in the private health insurance industry, with thousands of people choosing to vote with their feet each year, especially young people. Over 9,400 people dropped out of private health insurance in the last quarter of last year alone. It hides the fact that the changes in rural and remote boundaries have reduced bulk-billing subsidies for GP practices, forcing the restriction or abandonment of bulk-billing all over regional Australia. And, lastly, it hides the fact that the cost to visit a GP or a specialist is increasing, not reducing, in most federal electorates.
Take Corangamite, a seat of over 5,000 square kilometres, with a mix of rural, semi-rural and urban fringe. Data released in January shows that, for my constituents, since 2013, the percentage being bulk-billed has increased marginally from 45.6 per cent to 48.4 per cent, but that still leaves 51.6 per cent of constituents who have to pay to see a GP. That's a very unflattering figure for this government. And then there is specialist bulk-billing. If you can actually get in to see a specialist in Geelong, that has gone from a woeful 13.7 per cent of patients bulk-billed to the slightly less woeful percentage of 17.2. Indeed, almost 87 per cent of people with cancer and worse aren't thanking this government at all as they fork out for specialist visits. The average out-of-pocket expense to see a GP in Corangamite has risen by 36 per cent, or six per cent a year, between 2013 and 2019. Lastly, under this government, in my seat, the average out-of-pocket expense for specialist visits has gone up 59 per cent, or 7.5 per cent a year. From 1 January this year, the government cut bulk-billing incentives in around 13 regions across the country, including around Geelong. A number of these areas, like Bannockburn, Lethbridge and Meredith in the Golden Plains Shire, include high numbers of retirees and people on fairly moderate means. Lethbridge and Meredith are isolated hamlets; they are by no means metropolitan, and they are hurting under this coalition policy.
The end result of these policy decisions is that services will not be bulk-billed, and many people are faced with either paying or not going to a doctor. My message with respect to this motion is that this government needs less complacency and a lot more action and investment. Until then, the coalition's history of undermining Medicare will continue to haunt them.Share Tweet