Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I refer the minister to comments from the Prime Minister on 20 August that our health system is 'becoming unsustainable'. Just last week the Parliamentary Budget Office's spending projections undermined any claim of spiralling health costs, noting that medical benefits account for just 1.8 per cent in government spending over the next decade. Furthermore, a Senate committee inquiry into out-of-pocket costs for health care in Australia heard evidence from a range of experts, including Professor and Director of the Centre of Health Economics at Monash University, Jeff Richardson, who stated, 'Assertions that health spending in Australia is unsustainable cannot be justified by economic analysis.' Likewise, Brian Owler said, 'There is no evidence that our health care system is unsustainable.' Will the minister accept the advice of experts in its own department, or will the minister continue to misrepresent the state of health spending in Australia?
I think it is very important that we look at the facts. You cannot look at the fact that Medicare expenditure 10 years ago was $8 billion, and it has increased to $19 billion today, as anything other than a significant increase. You cannot look at the fact that over the next 10 years the MBS expenditure will increase to $34 billion. That is unsustainable. The taxpayers of this nation deserve better than what we saw from the previous Labor government, which did not in any way, shape or form address the future sustainability of our health system. We will consider the report from the Senate committee in due course, but we are absolutely determined to ensure that Australia has a health service that is sustainable into the future.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The same Senate inquiry found that out-of-pocket health care costs are already a significant barrier to treatment, and result in many people deferring treatment. Does the minister accept that making it more expensive for people to see their GP to get a blood test or to fill a prescription, by increasing co-payments, will make a bad problem worse, or does she agree with the Prime Minister that co-payments just ensure that people really value their health care?
In answer to that question, it should firstly be noted that a large proportion of the out-of-pocket costs in Australia result from patient choice in services that are not funded by the government. Indeed, particularly relating to rural and regional Australia, the evidence shows that there is not a significant difference in bulk-billing rates or average out-of-pocket costs between people in major cities and those in rural and regional areas.
We have seen nothing but opposition from those sitting on the other side of the chamber. They are getting in the way of this government's attempt to improve the delivery of health services and to make it sustainable. There are 263 million free services going out each year, and it is not sustainable. Providing four out of five services for free is not sustainable. This government, unlike the previous Labor government— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to reports this morning that the government is considering a single safety net for Medicare and PBS costs. Given that the Senate inquiry into out-of-pocket costs also recommended combining the Medicare and PBS safety nets into one safety net to help people meet large out-of-pocket costs, will the government now commit to adopting this recommendation?
As I indicated to the Senate earlier, the government will in due course consider the report and the recommendations from the report. What we will be doing is taking steps, unlike the previous Labor government, to ensure that we have a sustainable health system into the future. The previous Labor government may have been prepared to be irresponsible when it comes to the spending of taxpayers dollars, and irresponsible when it comes to planning the future of the delivery of health services for people in this country. This government is not. We will take the hard decisions to ensure that we have a sustainable health system into the future.