Speech: Medicare funding

Speech: Medicare funding Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (17:25):  In my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast, health is something very close to our hearts. Many local people are forced to travel significant distances to get the health care they need. This results in higher out-of-pocket costs, more time away from their families and support networks, and a significant cost to our health system and economy. That is why early intervention is so important. That is why it is vital that Medicare is functioning appropriately. That is why it is essential that patients can access bulk-billing, local doctors, at-home early-intervention services, local mental health services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. We know that when these early interventions are not there or are not sufficient there are higher costs to the patient, higher costs to the system and poorer health outcomes.

The member for Lyne's motion talks about the government's commitment to Medicare. What it doesn't mention, however, is the Liberal-National government's freeze on the Medicare rebate indexation. What it doesn't mention is that out-of-pocket costs to visit a GP are up by 25 per cent and that around 1.3 million Australians per year skip or delay Medicare services due to costs. Out-of-pocket fees to see specialists continue to rise, and, when you also have to travel to access this specialist, this can put life-saving medical treatments out of reach. Labor created Medicare, and we have fought to protect it. But all this government has done is cut, attacking the very foundation of Medicare at every opportunity.

The Liberal-National government is failing regional and rural Australia on health. Communities like mine struggle to find and retain local doctors, and some of our only bulk-billing medical centres have been forced to close or to reduce the number of doctors because of this government's policies. Demand for home visits, residential care facility visits and after-hours services is greater than the supply of doctors. My electorate has one of the highest numbers of aged pensioners in Australia, and the lack of local GPs is causing significant strain on local services like our hospitals.

There is so much more the government could be doing to support our health system. Take, for example, a recommendation in the recent aged-care royal commission interim report. The commission described the unacceptable number of older Australians waiting for home care as 'unsafe practice' and 'neglect'. Where does the government think these people go? They go into the health system. They turn to Medicare for help and support: a system overburdened and underresourced. But there are services out there trying to fill this gap.

The Illawarra Retirement Trust saw the gap in home care services for Indigenous Australians and the impact this was having on their health outcomes. After receiving a grant under the Dementia and Aged Care Services innovation funding round in 2017, IRT worked with the Aboriginal community in Batemans Bay to build the Booraja home care pilot program. The pilot has successfully helped Aboriginal people in the Batemans Bay area access home care packages, winning a national award at the innovAGEING awards. Booraja has provided care to 20 older Aboriginal people and has a waitlist of further clients. IRT also found that 75 per cent of Booraja's clients did not know about home care or how to access it before the program.

But their grant has expired, and so far they have been unable to secure further funding—an absolute tragedy for this community.

Targeted programs like this can lead to improved health outcomes for a community traditionally cut off from these vital services. Booraja has also employed all-Aboriginal caseworkers, training them in a Certificate III in Individual Support and creating a whole-of-community program, but they can't secure additional funding.

This government is simply not serious about improving our health system. The Milton-Ulladulla community continues to campaign for a CT scanner at the hospital and has seen the closure of its birthing unit. Local doctors and nurses are doing their best, and everyone in our community has nothing but praise for the wonderful work they are doing. They need the resources to adequately do their jobs, but this government continues to cut funding and support from the health system. It promised not to cut health funding, but it cut $57 billion from hospitals and another $10 billion from Medicare and other health programs in its first year. This is the real record on health for this government—cuts, cuts, cuts.