Radio interview with Minister Butler on ABC News Breakfast - 1 February 2024

Read the transcript from Minister Butler's interview on ABC News which covered the 40th anniversary of Medicare, bulk billing and concussion guidelines for sport.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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LISA MILLAR, HOST: The Federal Government's marked the anniversary by announcing around 360,000 more trips to the GP have been bulk billed since an incentive for doctors was tripled in November. The Health Minister, Mark Butler joins us now from Melbourne. Good morning. Thanks for coming on the show.
MILLAR: I want to dive into the Medicare arrangements and what the future holds in a moment. Can I just ask you first, Minister, about our top story - about the concussion recommendations and what your thoughts are?
BUTLER: I really welcome this advice from the AIS. As you said, I think in your story, this follows a landmark Senate report last year that drew attention to the concussion issue, not just in elite sports, where we've seen a lot of really good public reporting over the last several years. But also in community sports, particularly for kids. I mean, I remember riding the boundary when my young son was playing AFL and by the time they get to 13 or 14, they're pretty big units and they hit each other pretty hard. And when one of the kids got concussion, it was really scary for all of the parents watching. So I think they'll welcome the guidelines. Having concussion officers in sporting clubs to make sure that people are followed up, referred to their GP, I think is also really important, and I welcome the fact that I think about 30 national sporting bodies have agreed to take up this advice.
MILLAR: Yeah, there's a few major sporting codes that haven't yet. How critical is it for them to do that?
BUTLER: Oh, look, it's really critical. This has been well considered advice delivered by the AIS as I think your earlier story said, looking at overseas experience as well as the evidence that was put before the Senate inquiry. This is something parents feel really strongly about. They've watched the stories about the impact on some of our best-known sports stars, who play at an elite level, but they also see this happen on the sporting grounds every weekend when their kids are playing. They want to know what to do. And now we have some advice about what to do.
MILLAR: All right, well, can we turn to Medicare? Because it is the 40th birthday, 40th anniversary today, February the 1st. I know the government's been spruiking the fact that there's been a tripling of the bulk billing incentive. We've seen a whole lot of changes there. But it's still a system under immense pressure, isn't it?
BUTLER: Everyone who hits middle age feels that pressure and Medicare has, along with all of the rest of us. I just want to celebrate though 40 years of I think now the most important social program Australia has. Certainly one of the most deeply cherished. It changed Australia. Before Medicare, 1 in 7 Australians didn't have health coverage. It was the leading cause of personal bankruptcies: unpaid health and hospital bills. Medicare changed that in one fell swoop. it has delivered great health care outcomes: number one in the world for health care outcomes. Number one in the world for the equity of our health care system because of Medicare. But there are, as Steve Robson said on your program, real pressures. I mean, the patient needs of today are very different to the 1980s. We're older, we have more complex chronic disease, and we need to make sure that Medicare is strengthened for the future. And that's really a high priority for our government.
MILLAR: Yeah. The other word for strengthened is money. Steve Robson said it's going to take a lot more investment.
BUTLER: Well, $6.1 billion in the Budget last year was a very big down payment on strengthening Medicare, and the centrepiece of that was tripling the bulk billing incentive. Because at the top of the list of our concerns when we came to government was the free fall in bulk billing, particularly for visits to your local GP. The first thing we had to do was stop that slide. And since the announcement in May, we've started to see that slide that was accelerating, if anything, really flatten out. But as your intro said, the really pleasing thing since the money started to hit general practices, is the number of free visits has started to climb again. It's particularly climbed in some of the areas of Australia I was most worried about. So regional Australia got the biggest bang for buck. Regional Victoria, for example, increased by 5%. 8% in Bendigo. In Tasmania that's had some of the lowest rates of bulk billing, we had an increase of almost 6%. On the Central Coast, in New South Wales, again very low rates of bulk billing, that was up by 5% as well. So really pleasing early results but there's much more to do. As Steve Robson said, we've got a big agenda for Medicare to make sure that after 40 years we can be confident as Australians that our most important social program will be around for another 40.
MILLAR: Minister, when do you think we'll stop hearing from people who say they can't even get appointments? There's such a shortage of doctors.
BUTLER: This is a challenge that we're seeing right around the world. I mean, not too long ago, about 1 in 2 medical graduates went into general practice. That figure now is down to 1 in 7. But one of the big jobs that I and my colleagues have been given by the Prime Minister and all of the Premiers, is to lift the attractiveness of general practice to medical graduates. We're seeing GPs retire in communities across Australia, and we're just not finding the junior doctors to replace them. So, part of making general practice attractive, reinvesting money is the first thing to wreck it, to make sure that young doctors see a government in Canberra that values general practice, that recognises it as the backbone of a good quality health care system, is the first thing to do. But we've got a lot of work to do with groups like the AMA and others to make sure that we can recruit a new generation of general practitioners, to replace the terrific generation that's starting to think about retirement.
MILLAR: Minister, thanks for joining us.


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