Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 140 ..
MS MacDONALD (11.22): I rise to speak in support of Mr Hargreaves' motion that the Assembly notes with concern a number of health care issues. As with Mark Twain, reports of the death of bulk-billing are an exaggeration-but only just. For the first time since 1990, the rate of bulk-billing by general practitioners is less than 70 per cent. Since the Howard government came to office, bulk-billing has fallen by 11 per cent.
Because of this appalling decline people are seeing their doctor less often. In 2002 numbers dropped by 1.75 million visits from the previous year. Last year there were only 99.10 million GP consultations, which is the first time since 1995 that consultations have dropped below 100 million a year. This is not acceptable.
Those who can afford to see GPs who do not bulk bill are paying more for the privilege. The average cost per visit, after the Medicare refund, increased from $11.51 to $12.78 over the past year, an increase of more than 10 per cent. This, of course, only affects those who can get an appointment. Australia has an increasing doctor shortage, particularly in rural, regional and outer metropolitan areas, including the ACT. Recently, when calling for an appointment with my own doctor, I was told I would have to wait for a month for a bulk-billed appointment.
There are many other local stories about the doctor shortage. Tuggeranong Community Council president, Rosemary Lissimore, has been trying to get a doctor in the Lanyon area for a number of years, which was reported in yesterday's Chronicle. Most doctors surgeries in the region have been unable to recruit new GPs.
The Australian Medical Association says that the country needs an extra 2,000 doctors, about 10 per cent of the work force, but it cannot attract them. According to the AMA, this is because of a relative fall in the remuneration, the medical indemnity crisis, the Trade Practices Act, red tape, not enough university places for medicine students and unrewarding practice conditions.
An obvious solution would be a real commitment to Medicare and bulk-billing, beginning with targeted increases in the Medicare rebate, such as those suggested by federal shadow health minister, Stephen Smith. The shadow minister said the rebate should be increased in areas where bulk-billing was at its lowest or on a steep decline. He also said that incentives were required to ensure that general practice become sustainable and attractive once more. But instead of putting more money into the public health system, the Commonwealth government is wasting billions of dollars on its failed 30 per cent rebate for private health insurance.
Mr Speaker, I am sure you will remember that in 1996, in the federal campaign run by the Liberals-I was then living in Queanbeyan-the Liberals put out a piece of propaganda which had on it a fake Medicare card saying, "Not under threat, will stay."What they did not say was, "You'll still have that piece of plastic in your wallet, but it'll mean nothing-absolutely nothing."