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Government had to reassure Australians about Medicare

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After almost losing last year’s federal election over cuts to Medicare, the Government has used this Budget to display its commitment to the national health scheme.

It is setting up a Medicare Guarantee Fund and from July this year money from the Medicare Levy as well as from personal tax receipts, will be poured into the fund to cover the costs of Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

(A 0.5 percentage point Medicare Levy rise in 2019 will help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.)

Labor hammered the Coalition during the 2016 election with its so-called Mediscare campaign, requiring a clear message on Budget night from the Government.

“Tonight, we put to rest any doubts about Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his Budget address.

“We are lifting the freeze on the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We are also reversing the removal of the bulk billing incentive for diagnostic imaging and pathology services and the increase in the PBS co-payment and related changes.

“The cost of reversing these measures is $2.2 billion over the next four years

“Tonight, I also announce we will legislate to guarantee Medicare and the PBS with a Medicare Guarantee Bill.

“This new law will set up a Medicare Guarantee Fund to pay for all expenses on the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

“Proceeds from the Medicare Levy will be paid into the fund. An additional contribution from income tax revenue will also be paid into the Medicare Guarantee Fund to make up the difference.

“The Bill will provide transparency about what it really costs to run Medicare and the PBS and a clear guarantee on how we pay for it.”

But Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the Budget was an insult directly from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to every Australian who relies on Medicare.

She said instead of a staggered lifting of the rebate freeze, it should have been removed across the board immediately.

“When it comes to health, the Liberals haven’t learned a thing. The Turnbull Medicare freeze remains in place across the health system for years to come,” Ms King said.

“The failure to drop the freeze immediately will impact on many of Australia’s most vulnerable patients – such as those needing critical oncology treatment, obstetric services, and paediatric treatment.

“Australians will have to wait more than 12 months for relief and will be left waiting more than two years for the freeze on specialist procedures and allied health to be lifted.”

Greens leader Richard Di Natale described the Budget as a missed opportunity for health.

“The Medicare Guarantee Fund is a glorified bank account and ending the Medicare freeze just undoes a bad decision,” Senator Di Natale said.

“We should be investing more in prevention and redirecting the Private Health Insurance rebate into the public health system.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said all Australians can be assured Medicare was not only here to stay, but will be strengthened into the future.

“This Budget includes a $2.4 billion additional investment in Medicare over the next four years,” he said.

“Partnerships have been struck with the nation’s GPs, specialists, pharmacists and the medicines sector. These are key to the Turnbull Government’s initiatives that will support the long-term future of Australia’s health system.

“As part of our compacts with Australia’s GPs and specialists, the 2017-18 Budget restores indexation of the Medicare rebate at a cost of $1 billion, starting with GP bulk-billing incentives from 1 July 2017.

“With GP bulk-billing at a record high 85.4 per cent, more Australians are visiting the doctor without having to reach into their pockets. This Budget will help ensure that continues with our indexation commitment to GPs alone worth $543.1 million over 4 years and around $2.2 billion over ten years.

“Indexation of standard GP and specialist consultations will resume on 1 July 2018, and specialist procedures and allied health from 1 July 2019.”

Chris Johnson