Transcript of interview with Matt Wordsworth on ABC AM

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's interview with Matt Wordsworth on ABC AM speaking about the Government guaranteeing Medicare and record bulk billing figures.

Page last updated: 15 May 2017

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Topics: Turnbull Government guaranteeing Medicare, record bulk billing figures,

MATT WORDSWORTH:
I’m joined now by Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, welcome.

GREG HUNT:
Good morning Matt.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
More people than ever are accessing bulk billing. What’s driving this long-term rise?

GREG HUNT:
Well I think that the important point is, as you say, there are record figures for bulk billing. This year every quarter has been up over its previous quarter compared with last year. And we’ve just seen record figures for the March quarter come out – half a per cent over last year up at 85.6 per cent and 3.2 per cent over where it was with Labor.

Now what’s driving it is the fact that you have a Government that is investing in Medicare, we’re guaranteeing it. And there’s a lot of competition out there within the medical sector.

Now in order to support them we’ve just reindexed the Medicare rates with, in particular, bulk billing increasing from 1 July this year.

So across the front you have a health system which we’re investing in and guaranteeing and strengthening and that’s seeing itself play out in terms of the highest quarterly results for this March quarter ever. In other words, more people can access the doctor without having to pay.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
So there were seven million more subsidised services in that period. What does that mean in dollar terms for the Budget?

GREG HUNT:
So what we’re doing here is the Medicare budget is increasing from $23 billion, to $24 billion, to $26 billion, to $28 billion. But at the same time, because of the landmark partnerships we’ve struck with the AMA and the Royal Australian College of GPs, with the pharmaceutical manufacturers, Medicines Australia and the Pharmacy Guild – we’re able to make real reductions in the cost of many things such as our medicines, reductions in the risk of duplication of services through the rollout of a national My Health Record, which gives each individual the ability over the course of their lives to review what treatments they’ve received.

All of these things reduce pressure on the Budget, which allows us to then reinvest in new medical services and new medicines, allowing treatments such as cardiac failure, cystic fibrosis for beautiful young children who would otherwise not have been able to afford the medicine. So that’s the combination of reform leading to reinvestment.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
So it’s all factored in, is my point there. Those seven million extra treatments, lot of money but you’ve already factored it in, it’s not going to put a drag on your budget?

GREG HUNT:
No, correct. They’ve been, not just budgeted for, but included in last week’s Budget, which overall increases new investment in new treatments and new medicines and mental health. So such an immensely important part of what we’re doing and medical research, by $10 billion. But that’s all fully funded and fully paid for.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Okay. The freeze on the Medicare rebate, you’re lifting it but in stages. Labor wants that lifted across the sector immediately. How much consideration did you give that?

GREG HUNT:
Well we actually struck a partnership with the AMA and with the Royal Australian College of GPs. Both have strongly welcomed what we’ve done and we immediately recommence indexation of the bulk billing incentives in a few weeks’ time. And over the course of the next year, we’ll commence the indexation of GP consultations and specialist consultations. And so that is what the sector was looking for.

That’s a tremendous outcome and it’s also what’s sustainable within the budget context. And I think that what you have here is an absolutely fundamental guarantee to Medicare, but also the ability to pay for it and to strike reform partnerships with the sector, which then allows us to reinvest. It’s long-term thinking as part of a Long Term National Health Plan.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Sorry Minister, just while I’ve still got you though. At the same time you’re lifting the Medicare levy from 2 to 2.5 per cent for all taxpayers. Labor wants it for just the top two tax rates only. Is that a compromise you’re willing to make to get it through the Senate?

GREG HUNT:
Well we are focused on making sure that the Medicare levy – 0.5 per cent which supports the NDIS – that Labor put in but never paid for, goes directly to the NDIS. So every element of this is about the NDIS. It was a $55 billion gap.

Our focus in on a fair system that insures all Australians and somebody on $30,000 will pay about one-tenth of somebody on $300,000 will pay.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Yes, but my point here is that you’ve got to convince the Senate. You haven’t convinced all the voters according to the latest polls. You’re still trailing Labor. You’ve got to get this through the Senate. So you’ve got a Senate there who might be looking at these polls going, well if you haven’t got all the voters on side, then why do we have to agree with you?

GREG HUNT:
Well this isn’t just fair. Bill Shorten has always believed until this moment that it was fair. He said anybody who didn’t support a universal NDIS 0.5 per cent levy was dumb.

So I think that was a bit rude and a little bit over the top, but the whole point is, he didn’t just believe in this, this was a fundamental principle he believed in which he seems to have walked away from. It is fair, it’s always been fair.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Are you disappointed with the poll results? I mean you were hoping this was going to reset your whole government and how you’re still behind.

GREG HUNT:
Well actually, one poll’s gone up by 2 per cent, one poll has gone down by 1 per cent. Most significantly, there is very strong support for the NDIS Medicare levy. So the point that every Australian above a certain income will contribute to that and Australians understand that that’s fair because Bill Shorten himself lectured us that that was fair.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
But the question is by linking, the question that was asked of these survey respondents was, by linking it to the NDIS, do you support the Medicare levy? What happens if millions of people just open up their tax bill and see the tax, but don’t understand the link, then you could be in trouble, right?

GREG HUNT:
Well I think Australians well understand the Medicare levy. It’s been in place for a long while. And this 0.5 per cent is directed exclusively and completely to filling the NDIS gap. This is about helping those with the greatest need. They might have a severe physical or mental disability.

And I find it, not passing strange, I find it utterly offensive, that Bill Shorten having championed this measure and said that it would be dumb not to support it, now wants to turn his back on people with severe disability. And this is a measure which is insurance measure for every Australian. It could happen to any of us at any time.

And those on ten times the income will pay ten times the amount. Those on one tenth will pay one tenth the amount. So it’s fair and it’s reasonable and it was Labor’s measure which they lectured others to support. I’m (inaudible) be disappointed.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Minister I’m sorry we are out of time. I’m going to have to cut you off. I do apologise, but I do appreciate your time. Thank you.

GREG HUNT:
That’s alright. Thanks a lot.

(ENDS)

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