URGENT ACTION NEEDED ON OUT OF POCKET HEALTH COSTS

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (18:33): Deputy Speaker Irons, I notice your raised eyebrows. That may be because you have observed that I'm not actually a government speaker, who would normally take this slot in this debate. I have risen to my feet to make a contribution because it is a critically important issue. I commend my colleague for putting this before the chamber for debate. I campaigned with Dr Freelander when he was first elected, and I can tell you there was hardly anybody who came up who didn't know him, because of his amazing contribution in his previous life to the medical field and particularly young people.

He has moved in this debate a motion on the issue of out-of-pocket healthcare costs. I acknowledge the two government speakers who did make contributions, by and large agreeing with the member's comments—not completely, but by and large. There are two extra speaking spots for government members to talk about what must be a critical issue in their electorates around the out-of-pocket costs of health care, and they can't even fill the speaking list. I think that's a pretty sad state of affairs.

We've just been through the COVID pandemic. An issue that's been raised by medical people across the board over that period of time is their concern about people not following up on their own existing or emerging health issues—cancer tests and so forth—at the same rate as prior to the pandemic. I don't know whether it was because people felt that the medical system was under pressure with COVID or just because they weren't remembering that regular health checks and tests need to be done. There was concern among those medical people that fewer people were accessing those sorts of medical and health services.

One of the things we know with health is that, if you put any form of barrier in people's way, too often they don't follow up. And I think the point my colleague has made about costs being one of those barriers is really important. Increasingly, health providers, GP clinics and so forth, are providing a holistic range of services. They have clinics with other specialists, chronic health management, dietary advisers, exercise people and so forth. With modern medicine, if you make a diagnosis, you can make suggestions to the patient about different things they should follow up and do. If you can walk them straight from your door to the next door, they are far more likely to follow through with those things. It's the same with making a referral to a specialist: it's a challenge to make sure people actually follow through. I have been guilty a few times myself. My GP has told me to go and have some tests, and I keep thinking I'll get around to doing that. So it is really important that you put fewer barriers in place and make it easier.

Out-of-pocket costs are a big part of that story. All members had people in their electorates who contact them and say, 'The doctor said to go for this particular scheme. When I went to book it they said it was going to cost several hundred dollars. I just don't have that money.' This is a serious problem. It is saving you pennies and costing you pounds. When people don't follow through and get early diagnosis and then get into early effective treatment, on a pure economic measure, we are paying more because they end up with more complex and more difficult illnesses that have to be managed.

Out-of-pocket expenses have been increasing. This is a real issue and it should be a priority. I acknowledge that, in the budget last night, the government provided some additional funding for bulk-billing for regional and rural doctors' services. That indicates to me that the government is fully aware of why this is important. I would suggest that they need to look far more broadly. I would commend to them the policy on cancer support that Labor took to the last election—the policy to have no out-of-pocket costs for tests and treatment around that. I commend my colleague Dr Freelander. I am very disappointed that colleagues in the other house haven't been able to fill the speakers list.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.