Television interview with Minister Butler and Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast - 29 April 2024

Read the interview between Minister Butler and Michael Rowland on bulk billing; health insurance.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: The Federal Government says at least 950,000 additional visits to the GP have been bulk-billed since an incentive was upped last November. That’s a 2 per cent increase lifting the bulk-billing rate to 77 per cent. Let's bring in Federal Health Minister Mark Butler from Parliament House. Minister good morning, you must be happy with these figures?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: I am happy. They are the green shoots of recovery. When we came into government, we inherited a system, that saw it harder to see a GP than it ever had been, and bulk billing was in free-fall. We needed to arrest that really significant slide in bulk billing, but also see some recovery. I'm really pleased that those additional free visits are particularly pronounced in some of the parts of the country I was most worried about, in regional Australia, in some states like Tasmania in particular. There's obviously more for us to see, there's only five months gone since we tripled the incentives, the centrepiece of our budget last year, but I'm pleased to see some recovery.
ROWLAND: Have you got a target in mind? It’s at 77 per cent at the moment, are you aiming for higher?
BUTLER: I want to see it continue to go up. It's part of our really broad plan to strengthen Medicare, it's in addition to the 300,000 visits we've seen over the last several months to our new network of Urgent Care Clinics. Every single one of those visits was also bulk-billed and also taking pressure off our hospital system. It's the 40th anniversary of Medicare earlier this year, Michael, we are determined to see it strong and last for another 40 years.
ROWLAND: Can we expect further measures on this front in the budget coming up in May?
BUTLER: We're focused right now on implementing the $6 billion investment from last year's budget. The centrepiece was to triple the bulk billing incentive, but we've been opening Urgent Care Clinics, we're supporting general practice to put on more nurses, more practice nurses who play such a significant role in general practice as well. We've got a lot on the go at the moment in Medicare, and obviously I'm not in a position to announce what we might be doing in the budget in a couple of weeks' time.
ROWLAND: Ok, I want to talk about health insurance. We saw the figures, inflation figures, last week showing that rise in quarterly inflation in Australia - a worrying sign for everybody concerned, One of the reasons cited is high insurance costs. I know you recently put a limit on the scale of the increases health insurance funds could charge their customers. Are you still worried, though, that at least some health insurers are charging their customers way too much?
BUTLER: You're right to say that, in the general insurance sector, prices are going up quite significantly. I think that's a global phenomenon. But in health insurance, we were able to keep health insurance rises to an average of 3.03% for 2024. That's significantly below the inflation rate and although no-one likes to see a significant part of their household budget go up at all, I was determined to keep that increase to as low as possible, which is why, over the summer period, I went back a couple of times to the insurers and really urged them to sharpen their pencils and keep those rates, the increase to the rates, as low as possible.
ROWLAND: Ok, I want to finish with those rallies we saw around Australia, including in your home state of South Australia, against gendered violence against women. The Prime Minister says all governments, including yours, need to do more. As Health Minister, what more do you need to do?
BUTLER: I think it was a really important message from the Prime Minister yesterday. The determination for governments to do better, and the fact that National Cabinet is coming together on Wednesday to discuss this crisis of male violence.
In Medicare last year, we put in place funding for longer consults for general practitioners. This was in response partly to calls from GPs themselves, but also to the family violence sector, who said that a lot of their victims were using GPs as their first port of call and needed to be able to sit down for an extended period to consult a whole range of issues that confronted them and their children. We funded that in the budget last year in response to that call. If there’s more to, do particularly coming out of these really important community gatherings, the rallies and the National Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, then I’m sure that I, along with all of my Health Minister colleagues, will be very keen to do what we can.
ROWLAND: Do you think there’s more scope, including in the forthcoming budget, for more spending on prevention, including more spending on programs like men’s behavioural change programs?
BUTLER: As Minister Rishworth said over the course of the weekend, we are in the process of implementing a record investment through our family violence action plan, which includes investment in the area you just mentioned. I’ll leave Minister Rishworth to talk about those investments in particular, and obviously our budget is in a couple of weeks and we’ll be able to talk more about that in a couple of weeks.
ROWLAND: The problem is Minister, yes it’s a lot of money over a long period of time, but a lot of women, far too many women are dying right now. Can you understand the anger we saw at these rallies?
BUTLER: I completely understand the anger, and I think the Prime Minister, on behalf of all of us in government, and frankly all governments, has said we've got to do better here. I mean, the toll is rising. Incidents of abuse reported to police are rising. Not only are we not improving the situation but we also appear to be going backwards right now. It's not just governments, it’s right across the community, I think there's a determination to do better here.
ROWLAND: Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
BUTLER: Thank you, Michael.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.