KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Millions of Australians will have access to cheaper healthcare from today, with the federal government tripling the bulk billing incentive paid to doctors.
SARAH ABO, HOST: To discuss, we're joined by Health Minister Mark Butler live now from Adelaide. Good morning. Mark, good to see you. Now this is of course a big change, but I guess the question is who benefits most from this shake up?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This will benefit more than 11 million pensioners, concession card holders and parents with their kids who now will find it much easier to get to see a doctor completely free of charge. After ten years of cuts and neglect in Medicare, we've seen bulk billing rates start to decline very sharply, including for this vulnerable population, and we promised at the last election we'd strengthen Medicare. And today we're delivering on that promise with almost $6 billion of new initiatives kicking off today, the 1st of November, including obviously that huge investment in bulk billing.
STEFANOVIC: I guess the unknown is doctors going to play ball and we'll have to wait and see on that. But a lot of Aussies fall outside these categories, especially the vulnerable. Have you left them out?
BUTLER: The bulk billing incentives have always been targeted at kids, at pensioners and at concession card holders. That's about 60% of the throughput of a general practice. So not only will be that be great for those patients, but it's a huge boost of confidence and funding to a really beleaguered general practice sector that has felt the brunt of cuts now for a decade and has had to start cutting their rates of bulk billing. Now, if they're getting more income, this will be a huge boost to their income. If they're getting more income for those bulk billing patients, the pensioners and the kids and the like, that will relieve the pressure on gap fees that we've seen rising for all of those other Australians as well.
ABO: I guess the question is, though, whether or not we're going to see doctors play ball here. I mean, are you confident the incentives in these regions will actually bring those areas up to speed? Because the gap between metro and regional areas is enormous.
BUTLER: Doctors groups have described this as a game changer, and already we're hearing practice after practice say either they're going to return to bulk billing those Australians, or their plans to consider their bulk billing rates in the future have been put on hold - their plans to introduce gap fees for kids or pensioners are being reversed. We're seeing that right across Australia, I’m confident we'll see that from today onwards as well.
STEFANOVIC: Alright, so you reckon the doctors will play ball?
BUTLER: We're very confident. This is what they've been asking for, after a decade of cuts and neglect, they asked specifically for a tripling of the bulk billing incentive. In addition to that, we're flowing other increases to the Medicare system from today - we're delivering probably the most comprehensive shingles vaccine program from today for over 65. So, this is a huge boost to our Medicare system, which is the centrepiece of Australia's health care.
STEFANVOIC: I wanted to get you on something else. I think there's an interesting push, Mark, at the moment to tax and regulate vapes rather than ban them altogether which has its complexities and isn't all that effective of giving the budget $1 billion boost. What's wrong with that idea?
BUTLER: I just don't accept that we should raise the white flag and accept that vapes are a part of Australia's way of life. They are a public health menace to our kids in particular, that is clearly where they've been targeted and they've got one goal and that is to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction. And tragically, it's working right now because, you know, the gates have been open. These things are flowing very easily into our country over our borders. And health ministers, not just me, but health ministers across the country, are determined to stamp this out. We're determined to remove this public health menace from our kids. Now, the vapes in and of themselves are causing harm to our children, our teenagers, our very young adults. But they're also doing, frankly, what the tobacco industry wanted them to do, and that is providing a gateway back into smoking. Young Australians are the only cohort in the community right now where smoking rates are increasing and that is a result of vaping. We are determined to stamp this out. It's not going to be easy. We are taking some of the strongest action in the world, but I'm not going to accept the idea that we just raise the white flag and see a generation of young Australians recruited to nicotine addiction after all we've done over 50 years to drive down smoking rates, and after all we know about what that will mean to their health.
ABO: Is it actually raising the white flag? I mean, obviously everything you've said is right. It's out there and it's difficult to actually try and curb it, but regulating will literally help you do that.
BUTLER: No, it won't. I know where this is coming from, it's coming from the stores, it's coming from the tobacco industry that want to continue to do what they're doing, which is essentially selling these to kids. The vaping rates for people my age is next to none, they're very high for teenagers, they're increasingly high for kids in primary school. These stores are being set up deliberately down the road from schools because that is their market, and health ministers, and I think school communities and parents want to take action on that.
STEFANOVIC: All right, Mark, good to talk to you this morning. Appreciate it.