Assistant Minister McBride – press conference in Kurri Kurri – 17 May 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's press conference on Strengthening Medicare and cheaper medicines

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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DAN REPACHOLI, MEMBER FOR HUNTER We're here with our wonderful Assistant Health Minister Emma McBride to chat about some great things that came out in the budget last week. We have some really good announcements here, we're going to let everyone know. So I'm going to pass over to Emma to have a word and just really showcase what we have given in this Budget.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER Thanks, Dan. I'm so pleased to be at Weston Medical Centre here in the Hunter. What we've seen after a decade of neglect is plummeting bulk billing rates. We know the further you live outside of a major city, the worse your health outcomes are likely to be, and a big part of that is timely access to affordable care close to home. So in the Budget, we have announced $3.5 billion to triple the bulk billing incentive, which will mean that almost 11 million Australians will benefit from being able to have bulk bill care, 5 million children and under 16, older Australians, health care card holders, it will mean the practices like this one, Weston Medical Centre, will be able to continue bulk billing the most vulnerable Australians. This is the biggest investment in Medicare in its history. And we know that from having spoken to doctors right around Australia, that this is a type of investment that was needed to make general practice more viable to make sure that every Australian whatever their postcode, or whatever their bank balance could get affordable care, close to home. And I'm so pleased to be here with a Member of Hunter Dan Repacholi, who has been such a strong advocate for health care, right here in the Hunter. Dan knows exactly what it means for people to be able to get that health care, close to home and affordably so they're not ending up waiting hours in the emergency department and clogging up our already overstretched hospital system. As I said, this is the biggest investment in the history of Medicare, it's one that we know will make a really big difference, particularly to people living outside of our major cities. What this will mean for a typical level B consult will be an investment by the government of $74.75. That's the rebate plus the tripling of the bulk billing incentive. This will make a real difference to the viability of practices and I've heard from doctors in the Illawarra, just earlier this week that have said, it's first time that they felt optimistic about general practice. We value general practice, we're investing in primary care to make sure that every Australian wherever they live, particularly those outside of major cities can get the health care that they need, and they deserve. And I'm so pleased that we have Dr. Yasas here, who's going to be able to tell us a little bit more about what this means for the type of quality care that they provide to people right here at Weston Medical Centre.

YASAS SAMARASINGHE, GENERAL PRACTITIONER It's been a lifeline thrown at us with the Budget, because we have been struggling to continue bulk billing patients especially the vulnerable parts of the community, especially children, and elderly and those who have disabilities. With the increase in bulk billing incentive, we will be able to continue to work with them and provide the services that they need and at the same time, we have been fortunate to get this help this year so we will be able to continue the bulk billing services and extend our services to this community.

JOURNALIST We just heard what it will do for pre-existing bulk billing clinics, it has been reported in the past that places like Newcastle have next to no bulk billing facilities at the moment, will this funding also help create new bulk billing clinics?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER I've spoken to RT, the incoming president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, and what he has said to me is that it'll mean that practices that reluctantly, had to stop bulk billing, will be able to resume bulk billing and practices that were weighing up whether they could continue bulk billing will be able to do so. So we know that it will, from what we've heard already, this has been warmly welcomed by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia by the Rural Royal Australian College of General Practice. So this is the biggest investment that's been made in bulk billing since Medicare, a tripling of the bulk billing incentive. And I'm confident from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia from the Royal  Australian College of General Practice, and from hearing from doctors today like Dr. Yasas, that this will make a really big difference to practices that have reluctantly felt that they couldn't continue to bulk bill or practices that were weighing up whether they could continue and now have the financial viability to do so.

JOURNALIST Are you hoping that this will create a ripple effect which starts at bulk billing that potentially eases our hospital system and so on?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER This investment in primary care will mean that people are getting that quality health care when and where they need it affordably. We know that people have been avoiding seeing their GP because of the out of pocket costs. And we know that that means that they get worse and they end up in the emergency department at one of our overstretched hospitals like the John Hunter. So we believe that what this will mean is that people getting primary care when and where they need it will reduce pressure on an already overstretched hospital system.

JOURNALIST And one of the other big issues that was important heading into the election was getting GPs into the country, will this help with that in any way?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER What we've done is we've taken a whole pipeline approach to getting GPs into the country. International medical graduates are already a priority area for our migration and immigration pathways. With our local medical graduates we're now wiping their university debt if they work in the most remote parts of Australia. We've also introduced the single employer model, which will mean that our doctors training in hospitals can move seamlessly from their hospital based training to working in general practice. We're also investing in the WIP incentive, which gives practices more support to have team based care. So we're investing across the whole pipeline from international doctors, to doctors in training for people early in their career, and for practice owners, who now have, as Dr Yasas has said, a lifeline to be able to continue bulk billing. So, we believe that it will encourage more doctors in training into general practice and be able to keep the doctors that we have working in general practice with the right tind of financial scaffolding.

JOURNALIST I had a couple of questions about pharmacists, if that's okay. First one, what do the changes to Medicare mean for pharmacists?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER So what we have seen in this Budget, Health Minister Mark Butler was given options from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the expert committee on medicines, and what they presented to Minister Butler was the option to go to 90 day dispensing or 60 day dispensing. And with the advice of the technical experts Minister Butler has made the decision to go to 60 day dispensing. This Budget is about cost of living. One of the biggest cost of living pressures that people face is the cost of their health care, including their medicines. What this will mean is that almost 6 million Australians will be able to have more affordable medicines. At the same time we value community pharmacy, I'm a pharmacist myself, I've worked in community pharmacy, and we know how much community pharmacies offer in every town and city right around Australia. And what we've done is we've also announced a national scope of practice review. So we'll be looking at the outdated red tape and silos that stop healthcare workers being able to contribute to the top of their skills and training. We've also reinvested in community pharmacy, any savings from 60 day dispensing will be reinvested directly into community pharmacy. Announced in the Budget, community pharmacies now will have access to the National Immunisation Program. So children over five or everyone over five will be able to get their jobs at a community pharmacy. We've also invested in aged care through community pharmacies. So we strongly value community pharmacy. Community pharmacy is one of the most accessible points of care, particularly for people living outside of big cities, and any savings made through the 60 day dispensing will be directly invested back into community pharmacy so that they can continue to provide the quality care that Australians need and rely on.

JOURNALIST Another quick one sorry. Pharmacists say that they will be forced to hike up prices to cover the losses, what support will be on offer?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER So we've already announced that we've increased the rural allowance which is an allowance provided to pharmacies that are outside of major centres, and as I said, every saving made through 60 day dispensing will be directly invested back into community pharmacy. We've already demonstrated that with that access to the National Immunisation Program. We're working very closely with community pharmacy and their peak bodies to make sure that we see community pharmacy vibrant and sustainable well into the future.

JOURNALIST What can pharmacists do to protect the viability of their business model when the changes come into effect?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER As I said, we're working very closely with community pharmacy and with their peak bodies, and any savings from 60 day dispensing will be directly reinvested back into community pharmacy. We value community pharmacy and the contribution it makes. As a pharmacist myself, I was giving jabs during COVID. We want to see pharmacist doing more, working to the top of their skills and training, to make sure that every Australian has quality health care close to home.

JOURNALIST Last one sorry, how would the proposed reinvestment help pharmacists who are facing bankruptcy?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER What I have said is that any savings made from 60 day dispensing will be directly reinvested back into community pharmacy. Pharmacists have said for a long time, they want to use all of their skills and training, they want to be able to do more. So with this national scope of practice review and the reinvestment in pharmacy, pharmacists who already have an expanded scope of practice, will be able to continue that and they'll be able to do more. We have pharmacists that are wound care experts, diabetes educators, sleep apnea experts. We want to see pharmacist who are highly trained, qualified, capable healthcare workers being able to contribute all of their skills and training to Australians healthcare.

JOURNALIST What about the benefits to patients with 60 day dispensing?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER So what we know is that healthcare costs, particularly the cost of medicines, are a real pressure on household budgets. So from the first of January, our government reduced the general co-payment from $42.50 to $30. So we've already made medicines cheaper, now we're making them more convenient and more accessible. So, someone who in consultation with their GP, has a stable medical condition will now be able to see their GP less often, and be able to get two months supply of their medication at once. Talking to a mom who works full time and has diabetes, she said to me, this will make such a difference to her and managing her healthcare and the family budget.

JOURNALIST Could you see it expanded more, this sort of help for bulk billing or is it meant to just help certain people in certain areas?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER Our intention is that every Australian has access to quality care close to home when they need it. This tripling of the bulk billing incentive is recognising that people in regional and remote Australia have worse health outcomes than people in our major cities. This is the beginning of our big reinvestment in Medicare and in primary care. So the rebate has now been indexed, which is a $1.5 billion investment. So increasing the indexation of the rebate, plus the tripling of the bulk billing incentive will help across Australia, but it's scaled tell people in the most regional and remote parts of Australia.


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