The Liberals are Making it Harder to Access Healthcare - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

The Liberals are Making it Harder to Access Healthcare

I recently spoke in the House on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Surcharge) Bill 2018, and the government's inability to protect access to healthcare.

You can read the full speech below.

Labor has no difficulty in rising to welcome the indexation of the income thresholds below which Australians do not pay the Medicare levy or Medicare levy surcharge. This is a very standard and regular process that ensures that the most vulnerable Australians are not disadvantaged, while maintaining their access to Medicare, our world-class universal health system. It is, though, an opportunity to address the parliament about the key issue that is facing people in using Medicare, and that is that the cost of going to the GP or going to the specialist has risen. I'm talking here about the out-of-pocket costs that Australians face every day when they have to take their kids or themselves off to the GP.

The Liberals' claim that Medicare has never been stronger is false; it is wrong. The out-of-pocket costs of seeing both GPs and specialists have hit new records under the current Prime Minister, with Australians now paying around $47 for a GP appointment and around $90 for a specialist appointment, or at least up to those figures in some areas. Unfortunately, what this increase in out-of-pocket costs means is that there are Australians who are not going to the doctor. They are holding off from going to see a doctor, even when they're sick, because they're worried about what might happen in terms of the cost of seeing the GP. If they're making a choice between taking their kids to the doctor or taking themselves to the doctor, they are making sure that they hold off to make sure that their kids can go. In fact, the ABS figures show that 1 million Australians delay or avoid seeing their GP each year due to cost, with another 1.7 million Australians skipping specialist appointments. This should be incredibly alarming for everyone here.

It is a terrible indictment on this government that there are Australians skipping medical appointments, not going to the GP and not going to the specialist because of the cost. The Turnbull government really needs to lift its game when it comes to Medicare. The Prime Minister himself went to the last election promising that no-one would pay more to see a GP, but the out-of-pocket costs are higher than they have ever been, and this trend will only get worse because of this government's obstinate refusal to properly address the Medicare freeze problem that they created. The freeze won't be fully lifted until 2020, and that's really shameful. The government really needs to take a good, hard look at itself and take action in respect of making sure people can afford to go to the doctor.

The cost in my electorate is very high. In fact, my electorate of Griffith has the highest out-of-pocket costs for seeing a GP of any electorate in Queensland. It's almost $40 in out-of-pocket costs in my electorate of Griffith, on the south side of Brisbane. For our state of Queensland there was a recent increase of nearly 7½ per cent in GP out-of-pocket costs, year on year. The situation is even worse when it comes to specialist appointments. In fact, in Queensland, the year-on-year increase is 21.56 per cent. That's how much out-of-pocket costs have increased—by more than a fifth—to go to a specialist in Queensland, and it's a disgrace.

The fact that the government has been out in the media trying to trumpet a static GP bulk-billing rate shows just how out of touch they are. If you're a parent, if you've got young kids, you don't want to have to worry about the cost of going to the doctor if they're sick. You don't want to have to make choices between pharmaceuticals for yourself and taking your kids to the doctor. Yet that's what skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs do to people and to families. People in my electorate should not be put in a situation where the out-of-pocket costs for visiting a GP or a specialist are skyrocketing. This government needs to address this because the Commonwealth should be providing a universal healthcare system, and a healthcare system where people have to pay high out-of-pocket costs to see a doctor is not a truly universal one.

The Australian people are too smart to fall for the spin that somehow Medicare is strong under this government, because they know from their own firsthand experience that the cost of going to the doctor is very high. It's laughable to claim that Medicare has never been stronger. It's laughable for this government to claim that their commitment to Medicare is rock solid. Australians know the truth. The government can get up and complain all they like about Labor campaigning in respect of their plans for Medicare at the last election. The reason we were campaigning about what this government was going to do to Medicare is because the Liberals cannot be trusted when it comes to Medicare. The Liberals can't be trusted not to Americanise our healthcare system. The Liberals can't be trusted to protect and defend Medicare. The Liberals cannot be trusted to address out-of-pocket costs for GPs and out-of-pocket costs for specialists, just like they can't be trusted on private health insurance. They have refused to meet our commitments to cap premium rate rises when it comes to private health insurance. They're not interested in this crucial cost-of-living issue for Australian families.

Australian families deserve better. Australian families deserve a Commonwealth government that will speak up and, more importantly, will pay up to make sure that we have a universal healthcare system so that everyone can see a doctor, no matter their personal circumstances, and so that your access to health care is determined by your Medicare card, not by your credit card. That's what a Labor government would do. I know that Australians are thinking very carefully about the future of this country after the next federal election, and they're thinking a lot about health care. I say to the Australian people: Labor created Medicare and only Labor will ensure that Australians can access the health care they deserve. It's time for a government that will stand up for people's ability to go to the doctor without having to reach so deeply into their pockets, without having to make those terrible choices between medicine and GP visits, without having to worry about the impact that going to the doctor will have on their family budget and without having to worry.

This is Australia. In Australia you don't have to worry about whether you can afford to go to the doctor. That's the Australia that I want to live in. That's the Australia that I grew up in. But this Liberal government don't care. If they cared they would have done something about it a long time ago. We've had a Liberal government in this country for five years now, and we're seeing the consequences of that when you look at the out-of-pocket cost increases for Australian families. They haven't done enough, and that's because they can't be trusted when it comes to health care.

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