News National Out-of-pocket GP costs, rebate freezes in focus as Labor puts Medicare costs on agenda

Out-of-pocket GP costs, rebate freezes in focus as Labor puts Medicare costs on agenda

Medicare will again form a central part of Labor's election campaign. Photo: Getty
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Bill Shorten will move to reignite Medicare as an election issue on Monday, pledging to reduce out-of-pocket costs for GP visits by ending the freeze on remaining specialist items, including mental health plans, in his first 50 days of office.

The Labor Party is also preparing to roll out a huge campaign in battleground seats that will target the Prime Minister’s record as Treasurer when Medicare rebates remained frozen.

“As Treasurer and Prime Minister, Scott Morrison had the choice to stop his cuts to Medicare by lifting the rebate freeze. But he chose not to. In fact, as Treasurer he extended it for another two years – cutting another $925 million from Medicare,” Mr Shorten said.

The $213 million pledge is designed to close the gap in out-of-pocket expenses, which forces thousands of patients to pay $36 on average for a GP visit and $80 or more for specialist visits.

Health Minister Greg Hunt ended the freeze on Medicare rebates for basic GP consultations in the 2017 budget, but the rebate changes were phased in and remain in place for a range of specialist items that remain frozen until 2020.

Under Labor’s plan the freeze will be lifted in July.

Labor’s policy would see the Medicare rebate freeze lifted for:

  • GP consultations for family counselling
  • Urgent after-hours care
  • Health checks for people aged 40-49 at risk of diabetes or other chronic diseases,
  • 75+ year olds, people with an intellectual disability, refugees and veterans,
  • Care plans for chronic disease management, and
  • Medicine reviews.

The remaining Medicare freeze on specialist item GP consults also applies to incentives for GPs to provide cervical screening and diabetes and asthma care; Mental health care – assessment, early intervention and management; Counselling for pregnant women; and Telehealth services.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten argues out-of-pocket expenses for GP visits are up 25 per cent under the Coalition and costs for specialist are up by 40 per cent.

“The future of Medicare was at the top of my plan in the last election, and this election will be no different,” he said.

“Every day Mr Morrison’s Medicare freeze stays in place is another day that families are paying higher out-of-pocket costs to visit the doctor.

“If I’m elected Prime Minister, I won’t waste any time stopping Mr Morrison’s cuts to Medicare. His Medicare freeze will end in my first 50 days.

“I believe access to quality health care should depend on your Medicare card, not your credit card.”

Once again, Labor’s boost to health spending is being funded by increases to taxes on big business, a strategy the Prime Minister warns will hit jobs.

But the key to Labor’s political strategy is linking the Prime Minister’s big tax cuts for big business with his early refusal to lift the freeze on Medicare rebates.

Labor has confirmed it will apply a “bigger focus on Morrison’s record as Treasurer – his cuts to services, and him voting against the Banking Royal Commission 26 times” in the lead up to the April 2 budget.

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