Labor is preparing to unleash a Mediscare 2.0-style campaign, claiming the Morrison government cannot be trusted on GP fee increases and cuts to health.
In her first major speech to the National Press Club, opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said having failed to introduce the $7 GP co-payment, the Prime Minister was trying to do it by stealth.
“As the election draws near, it’s worth remembering the GP co-payment,” she said, harking back to her party’s major sticking point from the 2016 federal election.
“Because before an election, the Liberals always insist they’ll make no cuts to health. But they lie, every time. Surely by now Australians know that they simply cannot be trusted on health funding.
“The Liberal freeze began in 2014 – and has so far ripped more than $3 billion out of Medicare.
“That’s $3 billion out of the pockets of patients and consumers – and it’s a major reason why out-of-pocket costs to see both GPs and specialists have spiralled out of control under this government.”
Ms King said a Labor government will build a new system of specialist care through public hospital outpatient clinics.
“These provide free specialist care to people in the community with cancer and other conditions,” she said.
On private health insurance, Ms King said Labor will cap premium increases at 2 per cent for two years, saving consumers about $340.
“This will stabilise the system and stop the exodus, which is seeing tens of thousands of Australians ditch or downgrade their cover,” she said.
However, Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday night rebuffed Labor’s plan, saying the introduction of a permanent health reform commission was not the answer.
While Labor had repelled a bid to increase the co-payment for prescription medicines, Ms King said there were cuts to the PBS safety net and the Medicare Safety Net – meaning people with chronic or complex health problems would have got less support.
“There were massive cuts to dental funding and prevention programs. To diagnostic imaging and pathology. The destruction of Labor’s Medicare Local system,” she said.
“And let’s never forget this section of the 2014 budget papers, and I quote: ‘Market testing of the payment of health services by commercial payment service providers’.
“That’s a fancy way of saying they planned to invite the private sector to take over the Medicare payments system.”
That claim – denied by the government – was at the heart of the 2016 “Mediscare” campaign that Malcolm Turnbull blamed for nearly losing the election.
“We campaigned hard to save Medicare from this Liberal attack. And we make no apologies for it,” Ms King said.
“When the government claims it was a scare campaign, remember that it was two senior and respected journalists who broke the privatisation story – it was not some fiction peddled by Labor.
“And Malcolm Turnbull himself later conceded there was ‘fertile ground’ for our campaign. What he meant was, the Liberals had such an appalling record on Medicare that people simply don’t trust what they say.”
Ms King also targeted Peter Dutton, the architect of the GP co-payment.
“Let’s also remember that much of this carnage was inflicted by Peter Dutton – voted by clinicians as Australia’s worst health minister in a generation despite only occupying the role for 15 months,” she said.
“And yet just six months ago nearly half the Liberal party room – including the current health minister – voted to make Peter Dutton the prime minister.”
Ms King described a “boom and bust” cycle in her speech “where progressive Labor reforms are undone by subsequent Liberal governments.”
“Take Medicare for example,” she said.
“Gough Whitlam established Medibank; Malcolm Fraser scrapped it; Bob Hawke resurrected it as Medicare.
“It was only because Hawke and Keating were in power for so long they were able to embed – to ingrain – Medicare into our health system.”