Minister for Health and Aged Care – interview on ABC News Breakfast – 1 November 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Michael Rowland about the largest investment in bulk billing in the 40-year history of Medicare and violence against women.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Well, 11 million Australians should now find it much easier to see a bulk billing doctor with the Federal Government's tripling of the bulk billing incentive for young elderly and concession card holding patients coming into effect from this morning. Federal Health Minister Mark Butler joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, good morning to you. So how will this work in practice?


MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: It means that GPs can now charge significantly more to the government for bulk billing millions of children, pensioners and concession card holders. This is what they called for many months ago and we delivered it in the Budget. This is something that doctors groups have described as a “game changer.” It's obviously a huge boost to confidence and funding to general practice which has been under enormous pressure for a decade now. But most importantly, it will make it much easier for patients, 11 million of them, to see a doctor completely free of charge.


ROWLAND: AMA, while welcoming the changes, says from its perspective Medicare is still chronically underfunded. Is there more the government can do to ease the pressure on patients going to GPs?


BUTLER: Today is the biggest investment in Medicare for decades. Almost $6 billion in new initiatives start today. The tripling of the bulk billing incentive is the biggest one, of course, but we're also delivering the biggest across the board increase to Medicare rebates since Paul Keating was Prime Minister more than 30 years ago. We've got a new shingles vaccine program, a cutting-edge program that will be the most comprehensive program for over 65-year-olds on the planet. That starts today as well. We promised at the last election, Michael, to strengthen Medicare, and today we're delivering on that promise.


ROWLAND: What are the latest figures on, for want of a better expression, complete bulk billing, where patients go to a GP and face no out of pocket costs?


BUTLER: We’ve seen those figures come down pretty substantially over the last few years. As I said, the Medicare rebate was frozen for 6 or 7 years last decade, we then had the impact of Covid and then we've had the impact of the global cost of living shocks. General practice has been in a very parlous state and that's translated into a sharp reduction in bulk billing rates. We're confident this will start to change and practice after practice have been telling me and my colleagues that if they have moved away from bulk billing, particularly kids and pensioners, they're going to return to bulk billing, and if they've been considering a shift to bulk billing, they're reaffirming that commitment to staying with the bulk billing commitment to those 11 million Australians. So, this is, as doctors’ groups said, “a game changer.” It's a very, very big investment in Medicare and it'll make a very big difference.  


ROWLAND: On another issue and a subject we’re diving into some depth on this morning, you might have heard it in our news bulletin there before we came on, Minister, five women have been killed allegedly by men's violence in the last ten days, three women in just the last week. And it's worth reading their names. Sports coach Lilie James in Sydney, mum of four, Analyn Osias in Bendigo, Alice Rose Mcshera, a Perth lawyer. Five women in ten days. This on any level, Minister, is a national crisis, isn't it?


BUTLER: Absolutely. These are shocking numbers. And I heard the commentary in the earlier part of the session where we need a comprehensive approach, we need to be teaching boys and young men about respect for women, we need good supports for women fleeing family violence to be able to find housing, which has been a big part of our housing program over the course of this year. But this is a very deep, deep problem in Australia and around the world for that matter. But it's one that we must as a community, not just governments, but as a community, be very clear about addressing.


ROWLAND: But Minister, the national action plan on family violence, domestic violence, is a year old and the government got plaudits for bringing it in the first place. Clearly, not enough was being done quickly enough. What more can be done quickly?


BUTLER: We need to roll out a whole range of supports for women who are under pressure with family violence. As I say, their ability to leave a violent house and be confident they'll have shelter for them and often their children is a really important part of the measures we've been putting in place this year. But some of these social issues that the commentator was talking to, only a little while ago in your program are very deep social problems that go right into schools, right into the way in which social media is impacting attitudes of young men and boys to women. And they need a whole of community approach. It's not just governments that are going to have to take responsibility, although we obviously need to implement this national action plan.


ROWLAND: Health Minister Mark Butler in Adelaide, always appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us this morning.


BUTLER: Thanks, Michael


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