House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:13 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

This is my first address in the new parliament when you've been in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, and I want to say how pleased I am that you're continuing on the Speaker's Panel—continuing to make a strong contribution to this parliament.

I'm pleased to make a contribution on the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022, a bill which will have a positive impact and be warmly welcomed in the Shortland electorate. I thank the Minister for Health and Aged Care for his work on this very important legislation. This legislation will provide a reduction to the PBS, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, general patient copayment by $12.50. This is the first reduction in the history of the PBS. This means that the maximum Australians will pay for PBS medicines will be $30. This is a reduction in cost of almost a third from the current rate.

This change and cost reduction is sorely needed. We know that millions of Australians are struggling with cost-of-living pressures—their groceries, petrol and medical expenses. Under this legislation around 19 million Australians will be eligible for the savings. Combined, these general patients could save around $190 million each year People filling one script a month could save around $150 a year, while those filling two scripts a month could save around $300 a year.

This is a key commitment that Labor took to the last election. I'm proud to be part of the Albanese Labor government that is delivering this cost-of-living relief, which is desperately needed. Unlike the previous Liberal government, which was all announcement and absolutely no delivery, we are seeing a markedly different approach to delivering on our commitment from the Albanese government. This bill is significant in that delivery. We are actually delivering tangible cost-of-living relief to millions of Australians. Unlike the last government, we are not waiting until two minutes to midnight before an election to make an announcement, when they had nine years, almost 10 years in power to do something, but did nothing.

In a prosperous and wealthy country like Australia no-one should be forced to pick between accessing vital medication and putting food on their table. Yet that's exactly what so many Australians, including people in my community, are doing. We know that over the last nine years the previous government was obsessed with attacking Medicare and our healthcare system. They cut bulk billing incentives for doctor, and they reclassified the Hunter and Central Coast regions as not being a priority area for GPs, which has led to a significant GP shortage. They cut funding to Hunter's vital GP access after-hours service, funding that the Albanese Labor government will restore. All those changes made it much harder and more expensive for people in my community to see their GP. But patients have also been hit with a double whammy of their vital medicines becoming increasingly unaffordable. The co-payment that general patients contribute to the Commonwealth to sustain the PBS has doubled since 2000. According to ABS figures, more than 900,000 Australians delayed or didn't get a script filled in 2019-20 due to the cost. This is just plain wrong.

Former prime minister Gough Whitlam said in 1975 that the purpose of universal health care is to make medical treatment available to all who need it to ensure that medical care is not just another marketable commodity but a right of every citizen. All Australians should have access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. No-one should have to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families. Unfortunately many of my constituents currently do have to choose.

So of course this Labor government is committed to enacting progressive and meaningful health policies that positively impact the lives of many Australians. This builds on our strong history. Labor introduced visionary programs such as Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It was that great Australian Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley who established the PBS in 1948. It wasn't easy. It took two court challenges, two referendums, a constitutional amendment and 16 years to embed the scheme. Yet almost 80 years on it has helped the lives of so many Australians.

Labor has been in government for only a few months, but we have already put our money where our mouth is when it comes to improving the health outcomes of Australians. One of the biggest issues my constituents face is finding an available appointment with their GP or finding a GP that takes new patients. This is one of the biggest concerns they raised with me in the lead-up to the recent election. As I mentioned earlier, the GP shortage in my community is a direct consequence of the previous government's decision to reclassify the Hunter and Central Coast as non-priority areas for GPs. So I was so happy that in July, exactly two months after the election, the new Labor government reversed these changes. Medical practices in my community can now access doctors from the bonded medical program as well as overseas trained doctors, making it easier for them to recruit more GPs to our region. This change will not only take stress off local GPs; it will also reduce patient wait times, making it much easier for people to see their doctor.

The new Labor government has also delivered on our commitment to give 130,000 Australians with type 1 diabetes access to subsidised continuous glucose monitoring devices under the National Diabetes Services Scheme. These Australians over the age of 21 will be able to access CGM products through their pharmacy, with a co-payment equivalent of $32.50 per month or $390 per year. These life-saving devices were previously costing them up to $5,000 per year. Similar to legislation we are discussing today, this measure will help ease health costs for people living with type I diabetes. Not only that, having access to these devices will save lives.

Unsurprisingly, delivering this election commitment was welcomed by many people in my community. Nicole said to me via Facebook:

… as a mother of a T1 this brings music to my ears.

Andrew was equally pleased, saying:

I have been diabetic since 1994 and if it wasn't for the subsidies I would be broke. The free glucose monitor is another plus.

And Jessica said:

This is amazing news! I received an email last week from NDSS and nearly cried. I haven't been able to access the CGM since having my son. Financially it was totally out of my reach. This is absolutely lifesaving stuff.

That brings me back to how important the legislation we are debating today is. It will save millions of Australians hundreds of dollars a year on medication they need. This is what Australians expect from a Labor government, a government that cares about their health and their ability to access affordable medicines.

Concern about the rising cost of medicines is something that I regularly hear about from my constituents. Martin from Warners Bay is on the disability support pension. He told me that he pays over a quarter of his pension on medication. He said:

I have five that are non-PBS, despite some of them being considered the most effective for my condition, and the kindest on my body. There is one drug I pay $40/month for, and it has less ingredients than one on the PBS that would cost me $5.50.

Carolyn from Kahibah is on a part age pension and contacted me about how the rising costs in medicines are impacting her family's budget. She said:

I have been on prescribed melatonin for a number of years. All this time I have been purchasing a three months' supply from a compounding pharmacist. I can now only get a month's supply at a time at a cost of $35. I was paying $75 for three months' supply, and I could claim all but $40 of that back from my health fund. So from costing me $10 a month it is now costing me $35 a month. This is a lot extra from a limited income! We do the right thing and pay for private medical but when things like these changes occur it makes it less attractive to be covered.

This is just a small handful of the feedback I've received from the Shortland community. As a member of this place it's imperative that I listen and act on the concerns of my constituents. It's also vital that we bring forth real reforms, reforms that will transform the lives of so many Australians.

As an electorate that is, on average, the sixth oldest in this country, health care and the need for better health services are issues that the Shortland community are rightly concerned and passionate about. Over the course of the most recent federal election campaign, my team and I knocked on thousands of doors and called more than 20,000 Shortland residents. Over and over again, health care, and the cost of health, was identified as the major issue of importance for my constituents, particularly the cost of health care dramatically increasing over the last decade.

That's why this legislation is so vital. It demonstrates yet again that the Albanese Labor government is committed to addressing these cost-of-living pressures that Australians are facing in these uncertain times. This delivers on that commitment and I commend the bill to the House.


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