Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Saving Medicare, Abbott's GP Tax and Kalydeco

For over 30 years we have had universal health care, the core of which is every Australian's capacity to see a GP and have x-rays, blood tests and imaging without the need for cash on the day. It is the cornerstone of our health care system—that primary care is easily accessible. How do we do this? Through a Medicare levy paid by taxpayers. These services have not been and are not free, as was asserted yet again by the Minister for Health in question time today, and those who use bulk billing services are not a burden on our economy.

What will it mean if this GP tax becomes a reality? It will mean families will have to find the cash for primary health care costs every time they go to the doctor or have follow-up tests. It is bad enough that this government thinks that that is okay—but they also fail to understand that this will mean families make choices that may mean worse health outcomes and a longer term, more expensive treatment. Or do those opposite fail to understand? I think they understand too well what this means—they know it will undermine Medicare. They know it will change the business model for GPs and be the end of bulk billing, just as they know that starving public hospitals of recurrent operating costs will undermine the system and cancelling preventative health programs will lead to higher costs and worse health.

The people I represent in this place and I struggle to understand the rationale behind these measures when the so-called budget emergency argument has been shown to be a furphy. There is, however, an emergency developing—a health funding emergency. We have a health funding emergency and a health minister emergency.

We have a health minister who does not seem to take advice from those professionals delivering health services on the ground and, worse than that, who will not take the time to listen.

I heard yesterday a story that demonstrates this lack of listening and that paints a picture of a minister who lacks empathy. I heard this story from a resident who has a small child suffering from cystic fibrosis, who is, like others around the country, waiting for the outcome of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee process to see Kalydeco made available under the PBS. Understandably parents, whose children are set to benefit from receiving this treatment, are anxious for approval to be granted as soon as possible. These parents understand the approval process. They know that the minister has no role to play in the process but, understandably, they cannot do nothing and just wait. So they are doing what any parent would do when faced with these circumstances—they are engaging in the process through any avenue possible. These parents have been running an awareness campaign: visiting electorate offices to talk to their members of parliament, visiting Canberra, writing letters, appearing on TV and being active in social media. Naturally, this includes engaging, or trying to engage, the health minister. And what is the health minister's response? Does he engage with them on social media? No! And, even worse, he deletes their postings and blocks their access to his Facebook page!

As a local member, I have also taken the time to try and engage the health minister and have found a similar response—letters go unanswered for months, requests for meetings are not followed up and, as a result, the brand new Catherine McCauley rehab centre in the Werribee Mercy Hospital and its need for recurrent funding is ignored. I have to ask: what does this minister do with his time? The only time he bobs his head out from the sand is to announce a new health tax or a new health cut. This is a minister prepared to destroy our world envied health system; cut hospital funding; increase costs to patients; and cut preventive health programs. All these measures place an added burden on family budgets and on the longer-term health costs of the country.

The Kalydeco families, the local GP who wrote to the Age today, the Werribee Mercy Hospital, the seniors I met with last week, the families and pensioners responding to my community survey and the 30,000 people who marched in Melbourne the other Sunday all know the value of our current Medicare health system and want to defend it. I implore this minister to get a heart, to start listening and to act in the interest of Australians.


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