Television interview with Minister Butler on Today - 1 February 2024

Read the transcript from Minister Butler's television interview on bulk billing rates

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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

TOPIC: 360,000 more bulk billed visits to the GP; bulk billing rates climb; new concussion in sport guidelines; hospital funding.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: It's the biggest shake up to recreational sport in Australia's history. New protocols to protect kids and grassroots players from brain damage. But it's getting mixed reviews. Let's bring in Health Minister Mark Butler, live in Melbourne. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks for your time. Look, these are big changes and they will affect a great many Australians, especially with kids. We're greatly concerned about that. 21-day rest periods, concussion officers on the sidelines. They’re major reforms. Do you support them?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Look, this follows a really landmark report from the Senate last year, some of your viewers might know, looking into this question. As you said in your intro, it's going to give real confidence to parents. I know, as a dad myself, I used to ride the boundary watching my son play footy. You know, by the time they're in their early teens now, they're big units and they hit hard and every now and then you'd see a kid knocked out. And it was a real worry for not just the parents, but for the whole group around the boundaries. So the 21 day time out, but also concussion officers that are able to follow up and make sure that the kids or the adults in community sport are being followed up by their doctor or by other medical experts. I think this is a really good piece of advice from the Institute of Sport, and I'm glad that 30 national sporting bodies have agreed to pick it up.
SARAH ABO, HOST: I guess the idea being: started at grassroots, and then it will flow on effect eventually into their more senior games. But is enough being done? Some are concerned that this doesn't go far enough.
BUTLER: We'll look at the advice and see if there is more to be done, but this is really detailed work that the AIS has worked on now since the Senate inquiry was released last year. And I think the fact that 30 national bodies have picked it up is a very good sign. But look, there's always more to do. We want to protect players, particularly at those young ages when their brains are still developing …
STEFANOVIC: I agree with that.
BUTLER: … to give parents the confidence that their kids can engage in footy and rugby and some of these contact sports safely.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, agree. Meantime, Queensland has recorded the longest wait times in a decade. It's an issue that is plaguing hospitals around the country. Is funding the answer? Can you increase funding to Queensland? Would that make a difference?
BUTLER: The National Cabinet - the Premiers and the Prime Minister - in December agreed a new funding arrangement that doesn't just go for the next five years, but for the next ten years, to give more funding to state governments for their hospitals. But it's not just funding alone, unfortunately. Hospitals, not just across Australia but right across the world, Karl, are dealing with the legacy of Covid. So many people weren't able to get to their doctor when they should have been able to get there because of lockdowns and all the rest. People are sicker than they were before Covid, and that's showing up in emergency departments, not just around Australia, but right across the world. So we need to work through the legacy issues from Covid, the deferred care that people weren't getting. We're working very hard also to try and divert as much traffic away from emergency departments, particularly through our Medicare Urgent Care Clinics that are there to look after people who need urgent care for an emergency, but don't necessarily need the sort of care you get in a fully equipped hospital.
ABO: Yeah, we do need to improve that because it's costing lives, isn't it. But look, now, the national rate of bulk billing dropped last year. That's obviously a massive problem for you guys. Has tripling the bulk billing incentive achieved what your government set out to do? It might not have.
BUTLER: You're right to say that when we came to government, the bulk billing rate, particularly for visits to the doctor that are so important, was in free fall. And this was a really critical issue we needed to address. That's why tripling the bulk billing incentive - the money GPs receive if they bulk bill pensioners, concession card holders and kids - tripling. That was a centrepiece of our Budget last year. Our first job obviously was to stop that slide. It was in freefall. It was accelerating. GPs were saying bulk billing could become a thing of the past if something wasn't done. And data we've had since the Budget shows that we've managed to stop that slide. But over the last couple of months, from the time that money really started to hit general practices, pleasingly we've seen a turnaround as well. 360,000 additional free visits to the doctor in November and December alone - just two months. But really pleasingly, a big increase in some areas where bulk billing was a real problem. So in Tasmania, an increase of almost 6%, regional communities got the biggest bang for that buck, which I'm really pleased about. We want to see more, but we've succeeded in stopping the slide, I think, and in the first two months of the new funding we've started to see a turnaround.
STEFANOVIC: All right. Let's hope it continues. Good to talk to you and best of luck with that concussion stuff.


Help us improve

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