House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024



7:45 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Medicare as we know it today was first introduced by former prime minister Bob Hawke 40 years ago. But it was Bill Hayden, my former federal MP, who, as social security minister in the Whitlam Labor government, introduced its forerunner, Medibank, in the 1970s, before the Fraser coalition government dismantled it. So we have past Labor governments to thank for introducing Medicare and delivering better health care in this country, and it's been left to another Labor government, the Albanese Labor government, to strengthen Medicare and set it up for the next generation.

To mark the 40th birthday of Medicare, I popped into the Ipswich Medicare Urgent Care Clinic, which I was proud to open in August last year, delivering on a really important commitment I made to the people of Ipswich and surrounds at the last election. It was great to get back to tour the clinic and thank the amazing staff for the valuable work they do, ably led by the Dr Ajit Bhalla. This vital service is making it easier for local families to get bulk-billed care close to home when they need it, which is reducing out-of-pocket costs and helping with cost-of-living pressures for people in the fast-growing Ipswich region. All they need is a Medicare card. It's been a roaring success, with over 3,100 presentations since it opened in August, an average of 40 patients a day and at least nine out of 10 people saying they'd recommend the service. The urgent care clinic is taking pressure off the Ipswich Hospital emergency department, with presentations there down 25 per cent, freeing up the hardworking ED doctors and nurses to focus on saving lives. I've been fighting for years to improve access to health care for people in my area, so I'm proud that the government has delivered this much-needed service.

When it comes to Medicare generally, locals in Blair are agreeing and seeing the benefits of the government's record investments in bulk-billing. More than 105,000 patients in Blair have been able to access a bulk-billing doctor since November last year, with the government's tripling of the bulk-billing incentive for GPs helping with cost-of-living pressure. It means more children, pensioners and healthcare card holders in my community find it easier to see a bulk-billing doctor than they have for decades. It also means that more than 50 local practices that bulk-bill are getting more government support for their vital services. As a result of this much needed boost, the nationwide bulk-billing rate has risen, with an estimated 360,000 additional trips to the GP being bulk-billed. This has saved Australians more than $15 million in GP gap fees in November and December alone.

Regional and rural Australians like my constituents have benefited the most, with an estimated 202,000 free visits to the GP in two months. These savings come on top of $1.6 million that patients in Blair have saved on 137,562 scripts that are cheaper as a result of Labor's cheaper medicines policy, including 11,051 60-day prescriptions, which is saving people time and money. In addition, our government delivered on another key election commitment to strengthen GP practices last year, with 39 local practices in my electorate sharing more than a million dollars in grant funding to improve their services and patient access.

Lastly, the Albanese government is making it easier for GP practices in the outer suburbs and regional areas to recruit more doctors to service my local community. Thanks to another Labor election commitment, the rural Rosewood GP catchment area in my electorate was given distribution priority area, or DPA, status in July 2022. While these changes were good for some clinics, which are now able to access foreign-trained doctors, others, like the Walloon Medical Centre, are still classified as metropolitan under other classification systems, like the department of health's Modified Monash Model, making it harder to attract GPs to work long term at this practice. This is why the Minister for Health and Aged Care recently announced the Working Better for Medicare Review to look at how we better distribute doctors and healthcare workers around the country. It will include the three main policy levers used to distribute them: the Modified Monash Model, the District of Workforce Shortage and DPA. The review will identify ways to have a more stable and better located workforce, particularly in areas that find it difficult to attract and retain doctors, so that all Australians can access the care they need when they need it, regardless of where they live.

Our Medicare-strengthening reforms have been a win all round for patients, doctors and the health system in Blair, and they're helping make sure Medicare is stronger than ever after a decade of cuts and neglect under the coalition, especially under the current Leader of the Opposition, who was arguably the worst health minister, and he tried to put a co-payment on all visits to the GP.