House debates

Monday, 22 October 2018


Tasmania: Health Care

7:45 pm

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tasmania's health system is in crisis. We have elective surgery waiting lists blowing out day after day. People are waiting in pain in our emergency departments. The Royal Hobart Hospital has triggered the highest level of internal emergency alert it can, level 3, which means a severe effect on flow activity, yet the Tasmanian state government and this Liberal coalition government are doing absolutely nothing to stem the flow of hurt and pain that the system is causing Tasmanians.

And it keeps going on. From 1 November this government will be turning on the discrimination tap and denying older Australians Medicare rebates for GP-ordered knee MRIs. It is a measure that was introduced by the Prime Minister in his last budget as Treasurer. People living in regional areas, like my electorate of Braddon, will be forced either to wait in pain for an MRI until the next available appointment with a visiting specialist or travel long distances at their own cost to get an appointment. These people now face the expense of not one but two expensive specialist visits, one to get the referral for an MRI and the other to have the results reviewed. That is instead of having a GP order and review the scan. This costs Medicare many hundreds of dollars and costs the patient around $100 out of pocket for each specialist visit. While other medical specialists will be able to order knee MRIs, the Prime Minister's Medicare freeze has driven the average fee to see a specialist up to $85, and much more in many cases. The fee for an MRI sits at around $400 to $500.

How is it fair that a 49-year-old can get a rebate but a 50-year-old can't? How is it fair that this ageist, discriminatory rationing system will affect around 80,000 Australians a year aged over 50? In my electorate I represent an ageing population, many of whom, like millions of Australians, do everything they can to keep fit as they get older. It is completely contradictory that we're constantly encouraging older Australians to stay healthy while at the same time making access to critical health care harder and more expensive for them. It just doesn't make sense.

You could be forgiven for thinking that there would be no more important priority for any government than the health and wellbeing of its people, yet here is a government that is actively discouraging people from looking after their health, because of the associated costs. Making people pay specialist fees just to get a knee MRI so they can stay healthy is like an ageing tax for the over 50s. It isn't right. That is, of course, unless you're a sports star earning a six-figure salary, because, despite the push by this government to claw back costs, the provision remains open if you're over 50 and have had kicked a few balls in your time.

We know that under this government Medicare will never be safe. We know that under this government our health system will never be safe. And now we know that under this government our older Australians' health will never be safe. The coalition government axed TAZREACH in 2016, resulting in people from the far reaches of my electorate—places like King Island, Circular Head and the west coast—being forced to travel five-plus hours to urban centres like Hobart, or even interstate, to medical appointments. The program was the difference between someone getting the care they needed or missing out. And here we are again staring down the barrel of this coalition's discriminatory health policy, watching as those opposite continue to hurt those who can least afford it.

A Labor government will restore the funding to TAZREACH and invest a further $30 million in reducing Tasmania's elective surgery waiting list. Labor believes that supporting medical specialists' visits to regional and remote areas of Australia, including those of digital imaging specialists, will save people in these communities stress, time and the cost of travel and ensure that they get the health care they need. Providing a functional health system is what a good government does for its citizens.

Does this government even have an alternative plan to ensure timely and affordable access to knee MRIs for those over 50? The government must come clean about what it has done with the $190 million in savings it's made from this policy cut and other changes. Until it does, Australians will rightly suspect that this is just another cut to health from the same government that introduced the GP tax, the Medicare freeze and the $715 million in cuts to public hospitals. This is just another hit in the guts to those Tasmanians who are waiting on the elective surgery waiting list, waiting for specialist appointments and waiting in our emergency departments, as Tasmania's health system is in a deep, deep crisis.