Rising Costs of Healthcare - 12/05/2021

12 May 2021


I rise in support of this motion, and I thank the member for Macarthur for his motion highlighting these incredibly disturbing figures showing the costs of health care in Australia today. All Australians should be extremely concerned about what this means for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important good, accessible health care is, and I want to also take this opportunity to thank all the hardworking frontline healthcare workers, the federal and state public servants and all Australians for the hard work they've done to protect us from the worst of COVID.

We all know that this Liberal government doesn't value universal health care in the way that Labor does. In Tony Abbott's and Joe Hockey's first budget, they decimated funding to Medicare, including higher costs for medicine and higher costs for specialists. Eight long years later, and what have been the results of this tired old Liberal government's work? Out-of-pocket costs have skyrocketed. If you need to see your GP, your out-of-pocket costs are up 37 per cent since Labor left government. For visits to specialists, out-of-pocket costs are up 54 per cent. For anaesthetics, out-of-pocket costs are up 51 per cent. If you're a cancer patient needing to access radiotherapy and therapeutic nuclear medicine, your costs are up by nearly 200 per cent.

Canberrans know this reality all too well. Bulk-billing rates for GPs here in the nation's capital are among the lowest in the country, and this government is doing absolutely nothing to address it. It shouldn't cost Australians an arm and a leg just to go to the doctor, but under this government it does. Australians shouldn't be worried about not being able to pay the bills when they get sick, but under this government they are. Australians who receive the news that they have cancer should not be paying over $10,000 out of their own pockets in order to survive, yet in this country, under this government, it is something that happens.

What did the budget last night do to address these cost blowouts for patients? In typical Liberal fashion, not much. The government pledged $65 million to increase the rate of bulk billing in regional and rural areas. That may sound like a lot but there are 12,000 GPs in the bush, which means there is around $5,500 allocated to each GP. It doesn't even scratch the surface, and it does absolutely nothing for those of us living in cities like Canberra. In the words of the chief executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, 'This policy is hardly a game changer.'

We also saw an absolute slap in the face to older Australians and their health. The royal commission into aged care told the government what they needed to do to address this crisis in the sector. Not only did the government only invest in a fraction of the required funds needed to fix the neglect that has happened on their watch, but they're also directing the funds to the private centres that were exposed as being some of the worst in the commission's reports. They have all but left the poorly paid aged-care workers behind. They have all but ignored many of the recommendations of the commission.

There's a theme to how different parties treat healthcare policy in this country. Labor is the party that established Medicare, that established the PBS. We will always fight for it and we always have. The Liberals are the party that tried to destroy Medicare in the 1990s and they continue to treat it with utter contempt today. I believe that, if the voters let them, they will destroy it. Australia used to be a model for how a good, efficient, equitable healthcare system can benefit its citizens. Representatives of the US Congress used to stand up in their debates and cite us as a model to aim for. Not anymore. What we've seen for the past eight years of Liberal mismanagement is the Americanisation of our healthcare system, where profits are prioritised over people, where the rich survive and the poor struggle to get the health care they need.

Only a Labor government will make the health and wellbeing of Australians our top priority and only a Labor government will be on your side.