Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Health Insurance Amendment (Administration) Bill 2020; Second Reading

1:20 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Health Insurance Amendment (Administration) Bill 2020. This bill makes minor amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 to improve administrative processes under Medicare. The bill's main provision is to remove an annual requirement to remake the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Passage of the Legislation Act 2003 made this process redundant because up-to-date versions of all legislative instruments are now published on the Federal Register of Legislation. The government assures us that these minor changes will not impact Medicare patients or providers and they relate solely to government processes, so this bill is uncontroversial and Labor will be supporting it.

But this bill does nothing about the bigger problem in Medicare, which is the record out-of-pocket costs. The government's own data shows what Australians already know—that the cost of seeing a doctor has never been higher than under Mr Scott Morrison. The average out-of-pocket fee to see a GP is now $39, up $10, or more than a third, under this government. When the government proposed a $7 GP tax in the 2014 budget, GPs and their patients rightly revolted, but after Labor blocked that increase the government imposed the Medicare freeze. As Treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison personally extended the freeze by two years. Even though the freeze has now ended, it continues to hurt Australians because it has shifted more of the cost of seeing a GP onto patients. The government has now more than achieved its policy intent. It wanted a $7 GP tax and it has presided over a $10 increase. The increase is even worse for visits to specialists. The average specialist out-of-pocket fee is now $88, up a staggering $30, or more than half, under this government. Of course, these are only averages; many patients are forced to pay much more.

These costs have real impacts, particularly at a time when millions of Australians have lost jobs or income. Even before the Morrison recession, 564,000 Australians a year were forced to delay or avoid seeing a GP because they couldn't afford it. Another 579,000 Australians were forced to skip seeing a specialist. The government's own Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that, all told, 1.3 million Australians a year are forced to skip Medicare services. Of course, that burden doesn't fall equally; it hurts some people much more than others. To take one example, people in south-eastern New South Wales in the electorates of Gilmore and Eden-Monaro are twice as likely to skip care as people in northern Sydney. So Labor will support this bill, but we urge the government to admit and address the bigger problems in Medicare, particularly out-of-pocket costs.

1:23 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 to make minor changes to Australian government administrative processes relating to Medicare. These changes do not affect the existing arrangements for patients or health professionals. The bill removes the annual sunset period for the regulations which prescribe the table of medical, diagnostic imaging and pathology services covered by the MBS. This removes the requirement for the Medicare regulations to be remade each year so patients can continue to be eligible to receive benefits through Medicare. This change will reduce unnecessary administrative work and mitigate the risk that an error made during the remake process could affect patient entitlements to benefits under Medicare.

The bill also removes a number of provisions in the Health Insurance Act which are no longer required as they do not reflect current administrative practices. This includes removing references to the establishment and operation of the inactive Medicare Benefits Advisory Committee, removing calculations relating to Medicare benefits which are no longer used and removing references to historical requirements for optometrists, to reflect modern administrative arrangements. I thank senators and commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.