A fairer Medicare - better access, more affordable
The Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, has jointly announced a $917 million package to make Medicare fairer for all Australians, improve affordable access to GPs, reduce up-front fees for some patients, strengthen safety nets for families and concession cardholders and train more doctors.
28 April 2003
A fairer Medicare - better access, more affordable
The Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, today jointly announced a $917 million package to make Medicare fairer for all Australians, improve affordable access to GPs, reduce up-front fees for some patients, strengthen safety nets for families and concession cardholders and train more doctors.
Senator Patterson joined the Prime Minister, John Howard, in releasing A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable which introduces a range of reforms that will benefit all Australians by providing more affordable access to GP services.
The reforms for the first time will improve the availability of bulk billing for concession cardholders, particularly those living in outer-metropolitan and rural areas, including through direct financial incentives and funding for GP practices to employ a nurse or other allied health professional.
Senator Patterson said up to 7 million concession cardholders covered by a Pensioner Concession Card, a Health Care Card or a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card would be eligible to receive medical care at no cost to the patient from doctors who participate in the new scheme.
She said the Government was not introducing a co-payment and there would be no means test for Medicare.
"The universality of Medicare will be retained - everyone will continue to have access to the Medicare rebate when they visit a doctor," Senator Patterson said.
"As is the case now, doctors will be free to bulk bill whomever they choose."
Senator Patterson said patients without a concession card visiting participating doctors (those who agree not to charge concession cardholders a gap) who choose not to bulk bill would have significantly reduced up-front costs.
"Patients attending participating practices which choose not to bulk bill non-health care cardholders will only have to pay the gap between the doctor's fee and the Medicare rebate. They can leave the surgery with no more to do and no more to pay," she said.
"It will be more convenient because patients will not have to go to a Medicare office to claim their rebate and families will be relieved of the financial burden of paying the full doctor's fee upfront when taking sick children to the doctors."
Senator Patterson said doctors, depending on their location and the number of concession cardholders they treat, would receive incentive payments averaging $22,050 for practices in the most rural and remote areas to provide medical care at no cost to concession cardholders.
"There is nothing in the Government's Medicare package that would cause doctors to increase the fees they charge their patients," she said.
Senator Patterson said stronger safety nets would be introduced for Commonwealth concession cardholders with high cumulative out-of-pocket costs and other patients would be protected against high out-of-hospital medical service gap payments with a new private health insurance product.
In any calendar year the Government will pay 80 cents in every $1 of out-of-pocket expenses over $500 spent by patients with a concession card on out-of-hospital Medicare services.
For the first time, this will include the entire gap between the Medicare rebate and the fee charged by the doctor, including any fees charged above the Medicare schedule fee.
An extensive range of Medicare services will be covered under the safety net, including those provided by GPs and specialists, pathology and diagnostic imaging services when performed out of hospital.
Private health insurance will be able to offer 100% cover for total out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services delivered out of hospital of more than $1000 in a calendar year for an individual or a family, regardless of whether they have existing private health cover.
The services covered include specialists, x-rays, ultrasounds and radiation oncology. Preliminary estimates are that it will cost families less than $1 a week for the new protection. The Federal Government's 30% Private Health Insurance Rebate will apply.
Senator Patterson said the new private health insurance cover would be available independently of other private health products.
"It will give people a new choice in private health insurance and peace of mind in knowing that they are covered against high out-of-hospital medical gap payments if something goes wrong," she said.
Senator Patterson said A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable also contains longer-term measures to provide better access to GPs for patients by increasing the size and availability of the medical workforce, particularly in outer-metropolitan and rural areas.
An extra 234 medical school places will be created each year, the annual intake of GP registrar training places will rise by 150 and 800 practices in areas of workforce shortage, especially outer-metropolitan areas, would be eligible for an extra 457 full-time equivalent nurses and other allied health professionals.
For more information about A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable people can call 1800 011 163 between 8am and 8pm AEST.
Media inquiries, contact Randal Markey or Sarah Higginbottom, Media Advisers, Senator Patterson's office, 02 6277 7220.