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Health Minister Peter Dutton pushes overhaul to cut 'waste'

Health Minister Peter Dutton says new figures showing an escalation in health spending demonstrate why the government must cut ''waste'' in health.

Figures to be published by the Productivity Commission on Thursday show that between 2002-03 and 2011-12, federal government spending on health grew at an average of 4.9 per cent a year, while state government spending grew at 6.8 per cent a year, and non-government spending - by individuals and insurers - grew by 5 per cent a year. Health spending per head by all governments rose 37 per cent over the period in real terms, from $4474 to $6230. Adjusting for inflation, non-government health spending per person rose from $1259 to $1802 over the same period.

Mr Dutton said the figures demonstrated the challenge the government faced in placing the health system on a stable financial footing. ''It is the reason we have to cut waste in health and invest in areas that provide the greatest benefits to patients.''

Earlier this month, Mr Dutton flagged an overhaul of Medicare, warning spiralling costs would make the system ''unmanageable'' without change.

''In the end, we want to strengthen Medicare and we want to strengthen our health system, but we can't do that if we leave change to the 11th hour,'' he said.


The government's Commission of Audit is considering a proposal by a former adviser to Tony Abbott, Terry Barnes, for a $6 fee to visit the doctor to discourage avoidable GP visits.

Mr Dutton has also left open the possibility of regulatory change, which would allow private insurers to pay for GP visits, prompting warnings from consumer advocates that such a change would undermine universal healthcare.

Asked about the proposal for a $6 fee on Wednesday, Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop said the government had "no plan for co-payments," and accused Labor of ''scaremongering''. ''I'm in the cabinet. This has never been proposed. This is not before the cabinet.''

The Productivity Commission report shows the Commonwealth spent $7.4 billion on GP services in 2012-13, up from $6.2 billion in 2006-07 after adjusting for inflation. But GP spending per person has increased little, from $301.60 in 2006-07 to $304.40 in 2011-12.

The number of GP services per 1000 people has also seen only a modest increase, from 5553 in 2008-09 to 5768 in 2012-13.

More than 80 per cent of GP visits were bulk-billed in 2012-13. However, 5.8 per cent of people reported deferring seeing the doctor because of cost, while 8.5 per cent of people said they had deferred purchasing medicines.

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