Television interview with Minister Butler and Sarah Abo, Today Show - 6 April 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Sarah Abo and Karl Stefanovic on expanded access to Trikafta for children aged 6-11; Independent review into Medicare compliance.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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SARAH ABO, HOST: We're joined by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler. Mark, thanks so much for joining us in the studio today. Now, that's a lot of money that's on the taxpayer's bill there.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Unfortunately, it is not new, the former government received reports like this from the Audit Office. There was obviously a lot of media around this late last year with even bigger figures, so I thought it is important to get to the bottom of this and ordered an urgent review which was conducted over summer that came up with a figure between $1.5 and $3 billion.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Dr Nick Coatsworth, who's our resident doctor here on the show, said that really the whole sector needs to get together and work through this. Is there any appetite for that?

BUTLER: There is, I think. The report found - this is a very complex system, there's about 5800 different items on Medicare that’s just grown year after year, so it's a complex system for doctors to navigate - the report found the overwhelming bulk of wrongful billing are just mistakes, it's not deliberate fraud, I think your viewers would understand that Australia's doctors and health professionals are overwhelmingly honest, hardworking people who cherish Medicare, they want it to work, but the system is complex, needs more education, needs better technology, frankly.

STEFANOVIC: How long is it going to take to fix it?

BUTLER: There's a number of recommendations, some of which we can act on pretty quickly. Others are pretty wide-ranging, a review of that big schedule with 5800 items to make it simpler. Also, using new technology to detect wrongful billing earlier and get doctors to correct it, which they will do, I'm sure, once it's pointed out.

ABO: It's just not a good look, I mean, it's not just the previous government, this is almost systemic within Medicare, and at the end of the day, patients just want to get treated without having to worry about whether or not they're getting rorted.

BUTLER: Absolutely. And they know it's harder than ever to see a doctor right now, it's more expensive, and they want to make sure that their government is overseeing every single taxpayer dollar going into Medicare, and we're determined to do that. 

STEFANOVIC: Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was standing firm on the no vote for the Voice. He was on the show earlier confirming that. Your response?

BUTLER: It's deeply disappointing, not entirely surprising, really, given the strawman arguments that he's been pushing up to this debate over the last few months, but really it sees him one out. I mean, every Premier, Liberal and Labor alike will be campaigning behind this. I can't think of a business group that isn’t behind it.

STEFANOVIC: You’ve got some issues though don’t you, with getting it over the line? 

ABO: It’s an uphill battle.

BUTLER: Of course, every referendum is difficult. And the Prime Minister down has said that we've got a job to do to talk with the community and we'll do that over the coming months. But I think the community is ready for a really healing moment. I mean, this is long overdue, it's been talked about for many, many years, and I think if we can get it done, it will be a very positive moment for the country. 

ABO: As the Health Minister, you have got a lot on your plate, a very long list of things to get through. Some good news, though, cystic fibrosis treatment is now being made available to children six and above. How much of an impact will that have, do you think, on the condition? 

BUTLER: It’s hard to overstate the impact. I mean, it's just an everyday impact for these kids, 6 to 11, there’s about 500 of them, the therapy they have to have every day, the different medicines they have to take just to be able to play and participate in sports. This will be a life changer for them on a day to day, week to week basis. But it also will extend their life, we think by decades, I mean the average life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis is 47 right now because of the progressive damage done to lungs. If you can get that stopped at that young age, we know that these kids will have a long, healthy life to look forward to. 

STEFANOVIC: Good on you, Minister, that's a really important one that one. Thank you for coming by and hopefully you'll get a win with Port Adelaide at some point. 

BUTLER: We're hoping. Happy Easter. 

ABO: Enjoy those Easter eggs. 

STEFANOVIC: You’re not holding out for it though, are you? 

BUTLER: I'm holding out for it. Hope springs eternal. 

STEFANOVIC: Nice to see you. 

ABO: Thank you very much, Mark. 

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