House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Canberra Electorate: Health Care

4:44 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak about the difficulties that too many Australians are having in accessing bulk-billed GPs and general practice more generally, and the need for strong action from the government in this area. After 10 years of inaction from the coalition, the Albanese Labor government has taken the reins of a health system in crisis. That's not surprising; we know that the coalition have a pathological and ideological obsession with gutting our universal healthcare system. We know it always falls to Labor to ensure that our healthcare system has the funding it needs. Labor knows that health care is a human right, that it should be universally available and not just there for those who can pay. While the problems left to Labor are wide ranging, today I want to focus on the particular area that impacts my community of Canberra deeply—and that is bulk-billing.

When the coalition came to power in 2014, under then health minister, Peter Dutton—who doctors voted as the worst health minister in living memory—GPs were under immediate attack. In the horror 2014 budget the coalition tried to impose a $7 tax on every single Australian who wanted to see a doctor. And they tried to impose a $5 tax on every PBS script billed. When Labor blocked that radical agenda in the Senate, Mr Dutton imposed a six-year-long freeze on the Medicare rebate, making it harder and harder for our doctors to bulk-bill. The results today are abundantly clear. In my community, the ACT has the lowest GP bulk-billing rate in the country.

According to the 2023 Cleanbill Blue Report, only 5.1 per cent of GPs in Canberra bulk-bill. That's compared to a national average of 42.7 per cent. The result means that every time one of my constituents needs to see their doctor they'll be out of pocket by around $50 for a 15-minute consultation, or $66 or more for longer consultations. This is unsustainable and, for people with chronic conditions, this is a crippling cost. One of the key reasons for this frighteningly low rate of bulk-billing was the 2020 decision by the former government to remove ACT and Queanbeyan doctors from the eligibility criteria for rural incentives. That meant that doctors were paid 34 per cent less when they bulk-billed children and concession patients. As a result, naturally, our bulk-billing rates plummeted further. Obviously, I understand that Canberra is not a rural area, but when it comes to bulk-billing my constituents cop some of the worst outcomes in the country. Justifiably, my constituents want to see this change.

In my 2020 Canberra community survey, 416 Canberrans listed health care as one of their top issues. When asked to expand on this, the vast majority of those said that the lack of bulk-billing was their key concern. Joan said: 'It's impossible to find any bulk-billing GPs in the ACT. Every time I go to the doctor I get charged a gap of $60 to $80 for a 15-minute consultation. This is a huge hit to our family budget.' Zoe said, 'Due to the Medicare freeze, bulk-billing GP practices simply don't exist in Canberra anymore.' Morgan in my electorate wrote to me about being slugged for out-of-pocket costs of $95 to see his GP and by $200 for imaging services. These are things I hear about all the time.

This needs to change, and I'm so heartened by our progress in reforming health care in Australia already. On 1 January this year we delivered the biggest cut to the price of PBS medicines in the 75-year history of the scheme, slashing the price of general patient scripts from $42.50 to just $32. And in just the first two months of this year the prices of more than 3.2 million scripts have already come down, delivering more than $36 million into the pockets of hardworking Australians.

I have also been heartened to hear Minister Butler talk about the need to fix bulk-billing in Australia, and I want to thank the minister and his office for their engagement with me on this issue so far. I continue to urge him to consider the needs of my community here in Canberra if a regional solution is proposed, because Canberrans can't afford the coalition's bills anymore.


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