Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Health Insurance Amendment (Prescribed Fees) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I thank my colleague, the member for Shortland, for speaking earlier than perhaps he thought he might on this bill because I was a little late into the chamber. I rise to speak on this bill, the Health Insurance Amendment (Prescribed Fees) Bill 2021. As those speaking before me have said, Labor supports this bill. There is a second reading amendment which talks about GPs, and I want to take the opportunity to speak on the legislation because there are a number of issues relating to GPs and health services in my electorate of Dunkley that I am incredibly eager for the government to take up and either support or fix.
The first relates to something that my colleague who was speaking just before me, the member for Shortland, was speaking about, and that is lack of access to GPs. In particular, this is an issue in outer suburban areas. My seat of Dunkley is an outer suburban seat. I have spoken before about the GP clinics that are finding it just impossible to get Australian trained GPs to come and work at their clinics. They have been relying on GPs from other countries and are now finding themselves in quite dire straits because they cannot keep GPs employed. As I have raised with the Minister for Health and Aged Care and have spoken about in this chamber before, the main issues are that, as an outer suburban area, we're not classified as a distribution priority area; that the removal of Medicare incentive payment 10981 causes financial difficulties and is a disincentive for doctors staying in bulk billing clinics, as opposed to going into private practice; and that clinics would like to see options for sponsoring doctors from overseas, because they can't hire locally—this was difficult before the pandemic and is even more difficult now.
I appreciate that these are not simple issues to resolve but, in the end, the clinics that I'm talking about are in places like Carrum Downs and Frankston and look after people who rely on bulk billing. They look after some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged people in the broader Melbourne area. We know that, in the community of Frankston, we are just so far below the rest of Melbourne, the rest of Victoria and the rest of the country in regard to a lot of the health measures and in terms of life expectancy. There are issues with alcohol and other drug addictions. Diabetes is a significant issue. I could go on and on. We need good GPs and really good GP clinics that bulk bill. It's an issue that I've been raising for way more than 12 months now, and I'll continue to raise it. It's an ongoing and serious issue in my community.
The other issue that we have in my community that is not being addressed by the federal government and that charities, the not-for-profits, have had to step in and address—it has been raised with the minister of health, because it's also operating in his electorate of Flinders, but I'm yet to see any government support for it—is access to paediatricians for children from disadvantaged areas. There is a real problem with children from lower socioeconomic areas not getting in to see paediatricians. I can't even believe I have to say that sentence out loud in the federal parliament. That just should not be the case. The Menzies organisation, as a charity—with an amazing local man named Kevin Johnson, who is part of it—is providing paediatricians in schools. They are now servicing 22 schools with paediatricians in the broader Mornington Peninsula, including the Frankston area. From 27 January year until 1 April of this year alone, in term 1, there were 323 appointments for children to see paediatricians, including appointments for 85 new patients, often, particularly for those 85 new patients, for the first time—the first time ever that they had seen a paediatrician in their young lives.
In my electorate, the Paediatricians in Schools Outreach Program is out of Mahogany Rise Primary School, which also services Aldercourt, Seaford Park, Kananook and Monterey Secondary College; and out of Karingal Primary School, which services Frankston East, Ballam Park, Karingal Heights and Kingsley Park. This is a program that is providing essential care for children who need it now. It also provides that crucial preventative health care that not only enriches the lives of the children but also has so many benefits for the community and for the bottom line of health budgets. This is done by Menzies in conjunction with Peninsula Health through donations alone. As I said, it is not supported by government funding. I'm hopeful, because I've lobbied for it, that when we have the opportunity to go through the detail of the measures in the health budget that I will find some money in there for this essential and amazing program, but certainly it hasn't been announced. My serious concern is that the Minister for Health and Aged Care, whose electorate this program operates in, hasn't seen fit to support it. That's why I wanted to speak on this legislation. It's a terrific program and I really urge the government to support basic health care for young children who otherwise would not get it in my community and in the electorate of Flinders.