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PM still promises Medicare reform

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reaffirmed his intention to pursue Medicare cost savings measures and reform, including a “price signal” to patients, despite conceding that such measures would face a tough battle in the Senate.

Speaking to reporters last week, Abbott said that whilst his government wanted to “absolutely protect bulk billing for the vulnerable”, systemic changes were required to ensure the long-term sustainability of Medicare.

“A decade ago, we were spending $8 billion on Medicare,” Abbott said. “Today, we’re spending $20 billion on Medicare. Without change, we’d be spending $34 billion within a decade on Medicare.

“We do want to see more price signals in the system over time, but fundamentally, we want to protect what is a good system and that does mean ensuring that costs are under control.

“It’s been a long, hard slog with the Senate and I dare say that long, hard slog will continue, because when you have an Opposition-controlled Senate, obviously, it’s difficult for governments to get their legislative proposals through.”

During the press conference, Abbott also rejected suggestions that the abandonment of his government’s plans to cut the eligible MBS rebate for short GP consultations by $20 represented a policy backflip. He also denied having overruled Treasurer Joe Hockey and then-health minister Peter Dutton when initially deciding to put the measure in place.

“What we’ve done is what needs to be done,” Abbott said. “We’ve taken this particular element of a series of proposals off the table pending further consultation with the medical profession. Now, I think that’s the sensible thing to do. If you propose something, if you find that it’s causing a problem, you take it off the table, you consult, you fix it and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.”

After dumping its original plan to put in place a mandatory $7 patient co-payment for GP consultations, the government last year announced it would instead drop GP rebates by $5.

Whilst peak health professional bodies including the AMA have publicly voiced support for Medicare reform, they have so far widely condemned the Coalition government’s efforts to pursue savings. The ANMF and AMA have since welcomed the government’s keenness to include greater industry consultation when devising its future plans for Medicare reform.

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