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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 127 ..

Wednesday, 19 February 2003

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.31 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Public health issues

MR HARGREAVES (10.32): I move:

That the Assembly notes with concern the:

1) decline in bulk-billing in the ACT;
2) decline in general practitioner numbers in the Territory; and
3) monumental failure of the private health insurance rebate policy to address the problems in public health.

The Assembly notes the concern of the Canberra community about these issues and welcomes the actions of the ACT Government to raise these matters at the next Commonwealth/State Health Ministers Forum.

With the state and territory health ministers meeting with the Commonwealth later this week, I thought it appropriate to raise the issues of bulk-billing, access to GPs and the private health insurance rebate.

Following Ms Tucker's motion last year on access to health services, I felt it was important that the Assembly lend its support to our health minister, Mr Corbell, when he takes our case to the Commonwealth on Friday-provided, of course, that the Commonwealth shows up to the meeting. Press reports this morning indicate that the federal minister is running away from the issues. To coin a phrase of the Prime Minister, she doesn't "have the ticker"to turn up and justify her government's appalling record in health.

Free or subsidised treatment by medical practitioners via bulk-billing is one of the cornerstones of Medicare, the Commonwealth-funded national health insurance scheme. The release of the Medicare statistics by the federal department of health late last year showed that bulk-billing in the ACT is disappearing, and it is clear that a visit to the GP is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many in our community.

The decline in bulk-billing in the territory has resulted in increased pressure on public hospitals and has seen a shift in costs from the Commonwealth to the ACT. Since the introduction of Medicare in 1984, the rate of bulk-billing steadily increased throughout until the early 1990s. This trend was halted in 1996, following the election of the Howard government.

Between then and 2000, the proportion of Medicare services bulk-billed remained static. However, since 2000 the proportion of all medical services bulk-billed has fallen. ACT bulk-billing rates have been declining faster than the national trend. The 2001-02 bulk-billing rate of 51.2 per cent is lower than at any time since 1990-91.

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