Monday, 21 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail
I rise to speak on the issues still facing our healthcare system through the pandemic and into the future. First of all, to give credit where it is due, I do credit the minister with our very good response to the pandemic. I don't credit the Prime Minister, because, of course, as we all know, he was off to the footy during the beginning of the pandemic. I think he failed to understand the seriousness of the issue, and I think the minister was the one that brought us back on track. I thank him for his hard work.
I have spoken many times during my time in parliament about the issues facing our healthcare system and on Medicare in particular. Medicare was founded on two principles: of universality and equity. This has gradually been eroded during the eight-year term of this government.
The government has recently introduced some changes to the Medicare schedule, and they are very likely to make the erosion of the universality and equity of Medicare even worse, by all accounts. I've worked in the system for over four decades. I've seen what's happening to our healthcare system. It's becoming less and less equitable and more and more difficult for people on low incomes and for disadvantaged people to access the best of 21st century health care. We're still experiencing lockdowns, I know, during the pandemic, but this has made things even worse for things like waiting lists for cataract surgery and for outpatient services. The issues are getting worse and worse, particularly in those areas of disadvantage: outer metropolitan Sydney and rural and remote areas. Health care in Australia is becoming less and less obtainable.
Just before I came into the meeting today, I did a quick run around of some practices in south-west Sydney. For example, to access a private consultation with a paediatrician, the gap cost varies between $120 and $200. For a cardiologist, the average is around $200. So this is making health care less and less affordable for people who are disadvantaged and on low incomes. People shouldn't have to worry about putting food on the table and a roof over their heads before paying for health care. It erodes the primary principle of Medicare.
The shameful attacks on Medicare by the coalition have meant that for many people health outcomes and life expectancy are dramatically worse just because of their postcode or their socioeconomic status. I've stated previously that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has detailed that as many as 1.5 million Australians are avoiding Medicare services annually owing to costs. We've seen the collapse of our public outpatient system. Again, I did a ring around this morning to see if I could get someone into a virologist at our local hospitals and the phone either rang out or I was put on a queue of over 20 minutes to get through—just to try to make an appointment. I don't know how long the waiting lists are, but they are preventing people from accessing the best of our health care. This is people with chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, strokes, seizure disorders et cetera. The cost of medical care is skyrocketing and they are making it more and more difficult to access even primary care. I have contacted the minister's office on a number of occasions about the difficulty people in my electorate are having in accessing GPs. Nothing has been done; I get a motherhood statement but nothing else. The minister is constantly trying to politicise issues such as the PBS, which for the long-term has been bipartisan, yet we get no action on people accessing primary care.
I would like to ask the minister several questions. Will the minister ask the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport to investigate the local effects of the recently announced Medicare changes in terms of access to care and increases in gap costs? Does the minister concede that outpatient services at our public hospitals are at breaking point due to a lack of adequate resourcing and what specific plants does the government have to try to improve this? Out-of-pocket expenses have skyrocketed over the last eight years. What does the minister plan to do to rein in soaring gap costs for Australian patients? Will the minister commit to revisiting the classification of distribution priority areas for regions that are presently struggling to recruit and retain general practitioners and specialists? What will the minister do to make our health care more equitable and more universal for all Australians, not just those at the top end of town?