It is like a game of Simon says. Simon says anything if he thinks it will save his political neck.
The desperation of Simon Crean's perilous hold on Labor's leadership is underscored by his wrong statement today that families earning more than $32,300 a year will be denied access to bulk billing under the Government's $917 million A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable package.
This is completely untrue!
Bulk billing, where doctors choose to provide care at no cost to the patient, will be continue to be available to all Australians. Bulk billing will not be restricted to families with two children who are earning less than $32,000 a year.
As is the case now, doctors will remain in control of their own billing practices and can choose to provide care at no cost to the patient regardless of whether those patients hold a Commonwealth concession card.
We are giving doctors an extra $500 million, which goes to their bottom lines to help them. We are offering them extra resources, such as nurses to help them in their practices. This package will take the pressure off doctors. The vast majority of GPs will be better off if they participate.
There is nothing in the government's Medicare package that would cause doctors to increase the fees they charge their patients. If a doctor chooses not to bulk bill a patient - as happens in some cases now - doctors will be able to offer patients more convenience and significantly reduced up-front costs.
Patients attending participating practices, which choose not to bulk bill people without health-care cards, will only have to pay the gap between the doctor's fee and the Medicare rebate. They can leave the surgery with no more to do and no more to pay.
This will be more convenient because patients will not have to go to a Medicare office to claim their rebate and families will be relieved of the financial burden of paying the full doctor's fee up front when taking sick children to the doctors.
There has been much wrong comment about the Fairer Medicare package. In putting $917 million over four years into the Medicare system, the Howard government is strengthening Medicare, not creating a "two-tier system" as some claim or setting out to destroy it.
Instead of paying lip service to Medicare, we are actually doing something to make it better. At the very heart of the principle of universality is affordable access to GPs.
A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable
One of the myths being created is that going to a GP will become more expensive because of this package. No government has ever controlled the fees that GPs charge, and there is nothing in this package which should cause GPs to put up their fees. Under this package, the Medicare rebate will still be paid for all Australians going to a GP, so the "universal" element of Medicare remains. As is currently the case a doctor may still bulk bill any patient he or she chooses and continue to provide care at no cost to the patient regardless of whether or not they hold a Commonwealth concession card.
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