Minister for Health and Aged Care – doorstop in Canberra – 7 August 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's doorstop in Canberra about tripling the bulk billing incentive, strengthening Medicare and cheaper medicines.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MEMBER FOR CANBERRA, ALICIA PAYNE: Good morning, I’m Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra and it's wonderful to have Health Minister Mark Butler with me this morning here at Garema Place Surgery. Thank you to Dr Felicity Donaghy, and all the team here, for welcoming us this morning to this fantastic practice, a large practice, and I know one that works very hard to support Canberrans with their health needs.

It's been great to hear from Felicity this morning about some of the pressures facing general practice at the moment. I hear this a lot from my constituents. I know the lack of bulk billing in Canberra is a huge issue for Canberrans, particularly those on low and fixed incomes. We've been hearing from Dr Donaghty here this morning about how there has been a tendency for patients to stockpile their issues because they can't get to as many appointments as they need. And that's leading to more complex issues and, of course, more pressure on our hospitals.  

I'm really proud that Mark and the Albanese Labor government are investing heavily in our health system. In particular, the biggest investment in bulk billing in Medicare's 40 year history, tripling the incentive and enabling GPs to offer more bulk billing to vulnerable Australians.

It's been wonderful to hear from Felicity this morning about how that could impact here at Garema Place Surgery. I know this is a huge issue for constituents here and of course, Canberra is a health hub for much of New South Wales so there is a lot of pressure on our GPs. This will help them to offer those bulk billed services, which is incredibly valuable.  

This is part of our broader policies to support patients and help with cost of living. Our cheaper medicines policy that began on 1 January is already benefiting people immensely, including here in Canberra, where patients have saved just under $3.2 million already in the first six months of that policy. And in September, we'll see people being able to move to 60-day dispensing, which means that they'll get two months of their scripts for the price of one. Our government is heavily focused on our health system and on our patients and supporting our doctors to do the incredible work that they do. And that they've done through COVID and continue to do each and every day. So I'd now like to hand over to the Minister. 

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks, Alicia. She just received a terrific blood pressure test so she's feeling very good about her health right now. We've had a wonderful discussion with Felicity, I want to thank her for the time she's taking in hosting us this morning.

I've got some homework to take away about other ways in which the Government can make the work of general practitioners a little bit easier and a little bit more effective for their patients and I'm glad to do that. But, as Alicia said, in the Budget in May, we really did deliver on our commitment at the election last year to make sure that general practice was the highest priority that the government had in our health policy area. I had said in the lead up to the election, that I was terribly worried about the parlous state of general practice after almost a decade of cuts in our public, particularly the freezing of the Medicare rebate for six long years.  

We made an investment of more than $6 billion in the May Budget in general practice. Not only tripling the bulk billing incentive, delivering the biggest indexation to the sector since Paul Keating was Prime Minister more than 30 years ago, but also ushering in a range of reforms that reflect the changing nature of work in general practice.

Patients today are much more likely to have complex chronic disease than they were 40 years ago where they were much more likely to come in for a single episode of care with an infectious disease or having fallen off the ladder or some such thing. So, we are focused on making sure that our Medicare system reflects that need for more continuous wraparound care from multidisciplinary teams led by general practitioners was very much the message of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce and reflected in our Budget investments as well.  

At the election we also promised cheaper medicines to the Australian community, and we've delivered three waves of cheaper medicines now. In July last year, we reduced the maximum amount pensioners will pay for their medicines by 25 per cent. In September, we cut the price of 2,000 brands of medicine. And, as Alicia said, on the 1st of January, we delivered the biggest cut to the price of medicines in the 75-year history of the PBS. In her electorate alone, $1.3 million has been saved by patients going to the pharmacy in just six months and those savings will obviously continue well into the future.  

But there is more to do and that's why we accepted the advice of the medicine experts who manage the PBS to allow 60-day prescriptions for common medicines for ongoing health conditions. That will benefit six million patients. It will free up millions of consults at general practice surgeries that are desperately needed for other health conditions. It will be good for health, because we know it improves medication compliance. I've said that we are utterly determined to deliver this cheaper medicines reform in spite of apparent opposition again from the Liberal Party.

We're also determined to deliver business confidence to the pharmacy sector, the community pharmacy sector. That's why we've committed to reinvest every single dollar that Commonwealth saves from this measure. We've also committed to invest $350 million in additional investment for pharmacy services delivered in residential aged care.  

Today I can announce that we've also determined to bring forward negotiations for the next Community Pharmacy Agreement by 12 months. They were expected to start from July next year, for a new agreement to take effect in 2025 but I've taken the view and I've heard the soundings from the Pharmacy Guild that we need to deliver that business certainty to pharmacies sooner than that. So, we've determined, as a Government, that we're willing to sit down with the Guild now and start negotiations early to secure a new agreement, a new five-year agreement for the community pharmacy sector.  

I do say though, that I've read in the newspaper another scare campaign from the pharmacy lobby and the Liberal Party, which I'm desperately worried about. They've tried a range of cynical scare campaigns to counter this measure.

First, they said it would be unsafe and that was debunked. Second, they said it would lead to medicine shortages and all of the medicines experts debunked that scare campaign as well. But I'm really shocked that this morning, the pharmacy lobby and the Liberal Party have tried to scare vulnerable aged care residents that they would have to pay extra because of this measure to save six million patients from having to get their prescription filled every single month. This is a cynical scare campaign from the pharmacy lobby that should be rejected. Certainly, the Government rejects it.

We are determined to deliver this cheaper medicines reform for six million patients and we're determined also to protect aged care residents in the same process.


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