COMMENT

Canberra Matters | When Medicare loses, regional people lose

The last two weeks of Parliament have almost concluded and it has been busy as well as interesting but I am looking forward to getting home to my electorate and attending many of the events I have been invited to leading up to Christmas.

A few months ago I was contacted by the principals of Raymond Terrace Family Practice who had serious concerns about how changes to Medicare would impact bulk billing. These concerns were echoed to me during a recent meeting with the Community Healthcare Trustees which run the only 100 percent bulk billing doctor's surgery in Kurri Kurri.

The ability to bulk bill visits to the doctor is vital for a lot of Australians. Last year in Australia, over 85 per cent of all visits to the GP were bulk billed, and studies have shown without it, many people would not get the medical attention they need when they are unwell.

The Department of Health's Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Areas scale, more commonly known as the RRMA scale, determines how much a doctor's practice will get in cash incentives from the government for bulk-billing. After recent changes introduced by the Liberal Government, areas like Kurri Kurri and Raymond Terrace which were formally classified as regional, are now deemed metropolitan. This is the same category as the city of Sydney.

For those who don't know, I was born in Kurri Kurri and grew up in Heddon Greta and it's astounding to think that this government describes Kurri as a town similar to Sydney. The contrast is quite amazing.

The reclassification of doctor's surgeries in regional areas like ours will cost some centres tens of thousands per year, and will dramatically reduce the financial incentive to bulk-bill.

While our doctors do great things for our community, we also need to remember they are a

business. And we cannot expect any business, including those in the medical profession, to run at a loss.

Areas in our community desperately need bulk-billing. Without it, many people will stop going to the doctors. Out-of-pocket costs for the doctors are already rising, as they have since the Liberals were elected to Government, and this is yet another blow for Australians who can't afford the $70 plus fee to visit a GP.

When I heard about these changes, I was rightfully concerned. So I wrote to the Minister for Health to explain the negative consequences it would have in areas like the electorate of Paterson, and I look forward to reading his response. Last week I also stood in the Parliament and invited the Minister to Kurri Kurri and Raymond Terrace to sit down with our doctors and the people that rely on bulk billing so he can hear firsthand what affect these changes will have.

When Medicare loses, people in regional and rural areas in Australia lose. You can read my full speech online at www.merylswanson.com.au.

  • Meryl Swanson is the Federal MP for Paterson. Contact her office on 02 4983 2401 or via merylswanson.com.au.

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