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Medicare unsustainable without overhaul says Peter Dutton

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Soaring health costs ‘unmanageable’

The Abbott government may adopt a proposal to charge patients a $6 fee to visit the GP, Health Minister Peter Dutton indicates to Fairfax. Nine News.

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Health Minister Peter Dutton has flagged an overhaul of Medicare, warning soaring costs will make the system ''unmanageable'' without change.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Dutton gave the strongest signal yet that the Abbott government may adopt a politically explosive proposal to charge a $6 fee to visit the doctor.

While refusing to comment directly on the proposal, made by Tony Abbott's former policy adviser Terry Barnes in a submission to the Commission of Audit, Mr Dutton said Medicare Benefits Schedule spending had grown at a ''rapid'' rate over the past decade and some argued this growth was ''unsustainable''.

''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,'' Mr Dutton said. ''The threshold question is whether people want the health system of today strengthened for tomorrow, because at the moment the health system is heading to a point where it will become unmanageable.''

Annual spending on Medicare climbed from $8.1 billion in 2002-03 to $17.8 billion, an increase of 120 per cent.

Mr Dutton said when he considered the added pressure conditions such as dementia and diabetes would place on the health budget as the population aged, ''it's hard to understand where we are going to find money to pay for these services''.

Mr Barnes argued his proposal would deliver $750 million over four years in savings by reducing ''avoidable'' GP visits and reducing incentives for doctors to overservice. But doctors and health groups have attacked the proposal, predicting such a change would have the greatest impact on the poorest and sickest and risked overwhelming emergency departments. Labor has vowed to fight the fee, branding it a ''GP tax''.

Brian Howe, who as health minister in the Hawke government in 1991 introduced a fee for GP visits, this week stood by his decision, and said it was regrettable that Paul Keating as PM abolished the fee. He said his proposal was designed to manage demand for services.

But Mr Howe said he would be opposed to such a fee today, because it would be driven by a search for savings.

92 comments

  • I suspect the $6.00 fee is only the start.

    Can The Age investigate the linkage with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is currently being negotiated...

    Namely what are the benefits to the taxpayer?

    Commenter
    Aus taxpayer
    Location
    MELB
    Date and time
    January 04, 2014, 12:21PM
    • All the expert management to date,so well enumerated .And the system they designed we are told is unmanageable?Whose liable?I have absolutely no doubt,at all, none,that if the desire to make it work was sincere it would.

      Commenter
      Lane
      Date and time
      January 04, 2014, 12:26PM
      • Minister Dutton, last year Tony Abbott stood by his policies to increase spending for health when he was Health Minister:

        "I did not cut $1 billion out of public hospital funding. I did not," he said. "While I was the health minister, public hospital funding went up from under $8 billion a year to close to $10 billion a year"

        And this year we have to pay it back?

        Commenter
        Caffetierra Moka
        Location
        Sector 7-G
        Date and time
        January 04, 2014, 12:28PM
        • If my services are going to be cut back then so should my income tax (in a big way).

          And if we are going to be more like the US's "tea party" then I want the gun laws rolled back too ... so that I can have semi-automatic, high powered, weapons again.

          Anybody seen Peter Dutton in Dickson? I go to church, coach junior soccer, attend netball and local senior soccer games, go to community events and have never seen this guy. He didn't even turn up to the Pine Rivers show where he had a stall. Sorry off topic.

          Commenter
          Never seen Peter Dutton
          Location
          in Petrie
          Date and time
          January 04, 2014, 12:40PM
          • What a weak and Gutless Government we have got. They obviously consider that only the rich and influential deserve Health Care. Cuba puts pretty much everyone else's health care to shame, in spite of it's poverty. It still value's PEOPLE.

            After already suggesting winding back the NDIS, now it's the turn for everyone else!

            A Government doesn't stand tall by standing on the weak who have fallen. The true sign of a great Government is how it protects those who cannot protect themselves.

            We now have a Government that wants to sell our future to overseas big business. Owing so much to Murdoch and cronies for favours, we are watching the Crown Jewels given away for a song, and our standard of living plummet as orderly, justified wage increases over time gives way to a dog eat dog outbidding for the cheapest labour supply.

            Keep this up, and the rarest sticker out there will be the "L" liberal one. And it won't become a collectable one either as there will be no demand for it.

            If the Queen really is our head of state, and not just a figurehead, she should send this mob back to the polls in a Double dissolution, as clearly almost every promise made to get elected was a barefaced lie!

            Commenter
            Phil A
            Location
            Perth
            Date and time
            January 04, 2014, 12:41PM
            • Too little, too late.

              The system is beyond broken, riddled with inefficiency and rewards poor outcomes (the more you treat a patient - regardless of outcome - the more you get paid).

              We need to tear it up and start from scratch.

              One good starting point would be to ask why we expect the State to provide free health care to all, regardless of means? Food, clothing and shelter are slightly more important but we do not expect the taxpayer to hand them out willy-nilly. We restrict such support to those unable to obtain them on their own.

              So should it be with health care. The system needs to be deregulated, opened to genuine competition, forced to address inefficiencies (eg: operating theatres should run 24/7 - why build more theatres to only run them for restricted hours? This is insane. Ditto MRI units, radiotherapy facilities, dialysis units....the list goes on) and covered with a good dose of moral hazard.

              Smokers pay more for life insurance - but not health insurance. Why?

              Commenter
              Scott Hillard
              Location
              Newcastle
              Date and time
              January 04, 2014, 12:46PM
              • I can see no good reason why Medicare and taxpayers as a whole should have to continue to pick up the tab for people too lazy to eat properly and exercise at the very least. There is still a role for preventative programs that teach people to eat healthily but I fear the power of the the food processing industry makes it hard to overrule the misinformation out there. Nevertheless there is ample information around if people want to take it on board about how to live healthily and avoid most of these problems that seem to be plaguing our population. Doctors should be playing an active role in this and not handing drugs out willy nilly unless patients can prove they are making substantial and long term lifestyle changes. Unfortunately its quicker to write a script than to explain healthy eating and exercise to patients, especially when most doctors clinics only permit their doctors 10-15 mins per patient.

                Commenter
                Speedgal
                Location
                Perth
                Date and time
                January 04, 2014, 1:08PM
                • The opening of Pandora's box, Australians are generally proud of our inclusive health system and this is a sign of the "thin edge of the wedge". Surely people aren't that dumb downed not to see the writing on the wall.
                  Is the new catch phrase re Ministers, "did not respond"?

                  Commenter
                  A country gal
                  Date and time
                  January 04, 2014, 1:18PM
                  • If you have ever benefited from Medicare (and that would be nearly everyone), you must resist the Liberal move to dismantle our universal healthcare scheme.

                    Your healthcare and peace of mind are too important to be attacked by the Liberal Party haters. Say "NO to the Liberals!"

                    Commenter
                    Douglas
                    Date and time
                    January 04, 2014, 1:18PM
                    • It would be sustainable in a government was willing to address the fundamentals.

                      We are coerced into taking out private health insurance through taxation levies and surcharges. Let's drop that, increase taxation proportionately and have a universal public health care system for all.

                      Commenter
                      Gordon
                      Location
                      Melbourne
                      Date and time
                      January 04, 2014, 1:21PM

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