Medicare 'an article of faith'
the current health system is a priority, says Tony Abbott.
the new federal Health Minister, my job is to ensure that Australians
continue to receive high-quality, affordable health care. The initial
challenge is tackling the medical indemnity problem but strengthening
Medicare so that everyone has reasonable, affordable access to a local
doctor is my greatest priority.
the Japanese and Swiss, Australians have the highest life expectancy in
the OECD. After the Japanese, Swiss and Swedish, Australians have the
longest healthy lives in the OECD. Even so, governments can never be
complacent about the state of our health system because health is
important to everyone.
the world, health budgets are under pressure. Patients invariably expect
more than society can afford. People are living longer and in better
health but medical advances don't come free. In
many doctors feel that price discipline has been at their expense. Doctors
work long hours in stressful circumstances for their comparatively high
incomes and many do honorary work for sports clubs and professional
institutions too. They resent being found negligent when operations go
wrong, even though they have followed accepted medical procedures, and
believe that the ever-present threat of litigation is inhibiting medical
advance and forcing them into early retirement.
the face of these pressures, the Government's key priority is to
strengthen Medicare which is an article of faith for this and any future
coalition government. The Australian Government's commitment to Medicare
is underlined by our record.
1996, spending on Medicare rebates has increased by almost $2 billion -
from $6 billion to almost $8 billion a year. Australian Government
expenditure on general practice (including Medicare rebates, the Practice
Incentive Program and the General Practice Immunisation Incentives) has
increased by nearly 30 per cent over the past six years.
three pillars of Medicare are a universal Medicare rebate for doctors'
services, a universal Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and universal access
to free public hospital care. These must be maintained and strengthened.
some areas people are finding it difficult to access doctors. Over the
past four years, the bulk billing rate has dropped from about 73 to 67 per
cent of visits to doctors. Bulk billing rates vary greatly so that access
to a bulk billing doctor often depends on where people live.
part of the $900 million "Fairer Medicare" package, the
Government proposed to increase medical student numbers, add 150 places to
GP training programmes, pay higher Medicare rebates to doctors who bulk
bill health care cardholders, and introduce a safety net for low income
families with out-of-pocket expenses from doctor visits of more than $500
a year. The Government is considering further ways to strengthen the
safety net and increase affordable access to doctors, especially in outer
metropolitan and country areas.
billing is important but it's not the heart of Medicare. Medicare is
universal medical insurance providing high quality, affordable health
care, not free trips to the doctor.
health portfolio faces other challenges such as ensuring continued access
to life-saving and life-enhancing drugs at reasonable cost to taxpayers
and consumers; ensuring affordable access to aged care facilities; and
minimising the squabbling between federal and state governments which is
an unedifying but seemingly inevitable feature of
None of these issues can be resolved overnight but the Government will do its best to make a difference and will try above all else to avoid playing politics with people's health.