Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 24 June 2021) . . Page.. 2035 ..
Health—National Health Co-op
MS CLAY: My question is to the Minister for Health. Minister, the National Health Co-op has announced that they are going into voluntary administration. What is the ACT government doing to ensure that Canberrans, especially those in Belconnen, have access to affordable healthcare services?
MS STEPHEN-SMITH: I thank Ms Clay for the question. The news earlier in the week that the National Health Co-op was going into voluntary administration was certainly distressing news for the 30,000-odd members of the National Health Co-op. The very first thing to say about that is that, as the administrators, Slaven Torline, have indicated, it is important to understand that the National Health Co-op has gone into administration while it is solvent, and it will continue to trade on a business-as-usual basis for the time being, with no disruption to services.
It is really important that members recognise that they can continue to use the health co-op’s services. In fact, it is important that they do that. The more that people are using those services, the more income will be coming into the organisation while it is in administration, and the better chance the administrator will have of ensuring that they can find a way through this so that the organisation can continue in some way, shape or form. That is a very important point to note.
However, as Ms Clay indicated, if this service were no longer to exist for the 30,000 members—and that is clearly a risk but not an actuality at this point in time—this would be a significant blow to the availability of affordable and bulk-billed primary care services in the ACT. I have written to Greg Hunt, drawing his attention to the situation, reminding him again that it was the commonwealth government that cut the bulk-billing incentive at the beginning of last year from the ACT. That incentive still exists for regional and rural areas, but the ACT was deliberately removed from GPs here being eligible for that bulk-billing incentive. I have asked him again to reinstate that, and I have asked him to ask his officials to work with ACT government officials to see what we can do to address the unacceptably low rate of bulk-billing here in the ACT.
MS CLAY: Minister, moving forward, how do you expect access to bulk-billed services to improve for Canberrans?
MS STEPHEN-SMITH: This is a fundamentally difficult question. Primary care and funding for general practice are not a responsibility of state and territory governments; they are a responsibility of the commonwealth government. We have repeatedly made the point to the commonwealth that here in the ACT we have the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country, and we have the lowest number of general practitioners per 100,000 people, in the ACT. This creates significant problems in terms of access to primary care, particularly for low income people, and people with chronic and complex conditions.
I absolutely recognise that general practitioners here in the ACT do a fantastic job, and that many of them do bulk-bill their existing patients who need that. They do