Australian families visiting GP clinics can expect a major overhaul, with Health Minister Mark Butler promising to overhaul the Medicare system.
In an address to the National Press Club, Mr Butler said the drop in bulk-billing rates at GP clinics was a significant concern, and addressing issues surrounding Medicare would be a top priority in the federal budget.
“We can’t undo several years of Medicare rebate freeze in one fell swoop. That is difficult. This is our most important priority,” he said.
“There is no higher priority for me than rebuilding general practice because it is in the worst state it has been in the 40-year history of Medicare.”
The minister expressed concern about the disparity between bulk-billing rates in different parts of the country.
“What we have seen over the last 12 months or so, increasingly, are stories about pensioners and concession card holders now being charged a gap fee,” he said.
“That is a profound change to the way in which we understand the access and affordability of primary care services.”
Mr Butler said the health service was starting to show its age since its creation in the 1980s.
“It has become increasingly clear that a Medicare built solely on the old fee-for-service model of the 80s just doesn’t address our needs or suit our times,” Mr Butler said.
National cabinet has agreed to a $2.2 billion package in the budget that would introduce patient ID measures and expand after-hours care.
The health minister said the lack of medical graduates going into work at GPs was also a contributing factor.
“If you think it is hard to get a GP now, 10 years down the track if we don’t turn that around we will be in all sorts of difficulty,” Mr Butler said.
“General practice being the backbone of the healthcare system means that would reverberate through the broader health system, particularly into our hospitals.”
(Australian Associated Press)