Local health services angry about Liberal's failure on Medicare rebate freeze

MS BIRD (CUNNINGHAM) (11:27):  There is an opportunity in this parliament quite often to talk about the issues that are of real concern to your local constituents. Today I want to address an issue that has been consistently raised with me for a long time now. Before the election, we had a real debate happening about the future of Medicare in this country. I think, absolutely accurately, serious concerns were expressed about what this government, if they were returned, would do to continue the attacks that they had been launching on Medicare.

Then we saw the budget. There had been predictions by the government that they were going to lift the Medicare rebate freeze. What we actually saw was a snail's pace thaw of that Medicare rebate freeze, which will mean that people will continue to see significant out-of-pocket costs impacting their health decisions for a significant amount of time into the future. For example, for GP and specialist services the freeze on that rebate is not lifted until July 2018. For specialist procedures and allied health, it is not lifted until 2019. And the one I particularly want to address today is the fact that certain diagnostic imaging items will not be raised until 2020. Indeed, as we found out, only about seven per cent of those items are actually contained in the raising of the freeze anyway. Obviously when people have complex health issues and problems, these become real stresses in their lives.

I have been approached by a local health company in my area, Wollongong Diagnostics. Dr Alok Gupta as well as the practice manager, Kim Maslanka, have written to me expressing their grave concerns about this matter. Wollongong Diagnostics, for the information of members, have been working in my area since 2012. They employ about 20 people and they see about 150 patients every day.

They tell me—and I think it is absolutely accurate—that they are very proud of and care about the work that they do. I want to quote from their letter to me:

On 5 June 2016, the Turnbull Government publicly committed, in writing, to unfreeze Medicare rebates for radiology patients when it unfreezes GP rebates. The agreement says that it will index radiology rebates "to reduce patient costs for MRIs, x-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds".

Instead, what Australians got on Budget night was a plan to index just 7% of Medicare radiology services—just 59 services out of a total of 891. And, this won't come into effect until 2020 …

You cannot trust this government with Medicare, and this is more evidence of that. (Time expired)