National Health Amendment Pharmacuetical Benefits Bill 2014

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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (17:23): I want to take the opportunity, as brief as it is to speak on the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014. I think there is something particularly sad about the fact that this debate has been gagged by the Minister for Communications, but the hypocrisy is fairly consistent with the government's approach to most policy areas. I am taking the opportunity to make it clear that I oppose this bill and in the short time available to each of us to put something on the record for the House about why I have that view. Like my colleague the member for Lingiari, I want to talk about a group who are particularly vulnerable in all our communities and who do not often have a good rate of accessing health services: young people.

When I talk about young people, I am talking about post-school-age young people who are struggling in insecure and unreliable jobs, who might have irregular income or a little bit of income support, obviously at the lower level as is the case with younger people—it is going to be even worse under this government for people under 30. All of us with kids in their 20s are pretty horrified at the government's thought that anybody under 30 is going to be living at home for ever and a day. I would have thought that most of them would have been encouraging young people to get out and be independent and not be looking for some support from home at the age of 30.

Sadly, for many young people, there is not a home to look to for that support. Like many of our colleagues, the member for Throsby and I often visit some of the homeless services for young people in our area and talk to these young people. A lot of them are also young parents. What is the reality of the cumulative effect of health initiatives that they now face in this government's budget? Let us put that together. Let us say there is a young mum living at one of those services with a toddler. She is homeless, has very limited income and is probably trying to get some education to improve her chances in life. Then the flu hits and they get sick. They go to the doctor; it is $7 for both consultations: her own and her child's. That is $14 to start with, under the brilliantly conceived GP tax that is about to dismantle the universality of our healthcare system. The doctor says, 'Look, I just want you to go and have a quick blood test each. I want to do some diagnostics.' So they go to the local pathology service—that is another $7 each. There is $14 extra there. We are up to $28 already. Unsurprisingly, you are not allowed to read your own pathology test, so you have to go back to the GP for another appointment for the both of you. There is another $14. Now we are up to $42, and we have not even got to the point of filling the script. This is the cumulative effect of the impost that this budget is putting on people who can least afford it in the health sphere. For that family, there will be another $5 to $6.90 added to the cost of the prescription. For two prescriptions that is at minimum another $10. This one period of illness will cost an extra $50 for that mum and her kid on what they would previously have had to pay.

The outcome of that situation is that people will make the decision not to go to the doctor. If the doctor gives them a reference to a pathologist or any other sort of diagnostic services, they will walk out saying, 'Yes, doctor, I will go and do that,' and they will not follow up and get it done. If they follow it up and get it done, they might then be deciding whether to go back to the doctor and considering whether they can afford it. Even if they go back to the doctor for some peace of mind about the outcome of the tests, it is increasingly likely that they will not get a prescription filled. Every barrier you put in the chain of decision making about accessing health services increases the likelihood, particularly for the most vulnerable, that patients will drop out of that chain and not access those services. That is the reality we face.

I would have thought everyone in this place would understand that an ounce of prevention is much better than the cost of the cure. We all know that if you get preventive and primary health care right and you get people engaged and participating, you save money for the budget bottom line in the long run. It is not only bad health policy but also bad fiscal policy as well.

Last week, I got a letter from a radiology group in my own electorate expressing grave concerns about the impacts of exactly the sort of scenario I have outlined. This bill should be opposed. It is bad policy. It is a bad fiscal decision.