Assault on Medicare

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By Michael Danby MHR, Federal Member for Melbourne Ports

The Turnbull Government’s decision in the Mid-Year Budget 2015 decision to scrap bulk billing incentives for medical pathology and diagnostic imaging services continues the decades-long  LNP assault on Medicare, Australia’s signature national health program. As usual, the now Turnbull-Morrison LNP government is “stealth-targeting” health and welfare programs, as did the Abbott-Hockey government, seeking to cut public support for the underprivileged, the sick, the suffering and the unemployed wherever they can.

Most Australians hardly need to be reminded of the May 2014 Abbott-Hockey Budget with its imposition of new “Medicare taxes” such as their proposed  General Practice (GP) service “tax” co-payment, co-payment increases for prescribed PBS medicines and co-payments on pathology and imaging services. After a multitude of complaints from all quarters and concerted action by the public, community groups and the Australian Medical Association (AMA), combined with the strenuous opposition of Labor and other parties in federal Parliament, the LNP imminent Abbott-Hockey assault on Medicare was thwarted – but not for long.  The LNP 2014 Budget proposed Medicare co-payment impositions were  sneakily replaced by the “freezing” of bulk-billing GP rebates and now we have arrived at this point, where the bulk billing incentive are to be removed from  all pathology and imaging services for general patients.

In 2014, following the then May Budget  co-payment proposals,  a research survey conducted by the Family Medical Research Centre, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, showed that on average  the number of medical/GP consultations  increased with age from 4.5 visits per annum for children to 10.5 visits p.a. for patients aged 65 years and over.  Most significantly, and essential to the practice of modern medicine, more than one-quarter of all consultations with adult patients involved at least one order for imaging and/or pathology.

Now each pathology test or imaging x-ray/MRI will see the appropriate Medicare rebate forced into a significant decline.  And the commercial providers of such services will of necessity be seeking co-payments from the GP patients to replace the reductions in Medicare rebates. This “strangling of Medicare incentives” is exactly what the Abbott-Hockey Budget of 2014 sought to achieve with its forced co-payments as part of the LNP war on Medicare. The bulk-billing incentives paid to ensure that pathology and diagnostic imaging is bulk billed is now to be reduced by $650 million, another assault on the long-held principal of maintaining bulk-billing Medicare for cost rebates to encourage Australians to seek necessary medical care This has been at the heart of decades of Australian health policy for decades.

Did I hear someone on the LNP side mention “price signals?”  Short for of the old supply and demand principal – up the price, decrease the use to those who can pay for it.

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