Labor’s Rural and Regional Health spokesperson Stephen Jones has called on the new Assistant Minister for Rural Health to take a stand on Medicare so that the gap between rural and city health outcomes can be addressed.
It follows Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement earlier this week that Nationals’ leader Fiona Nash will no longer serve as Rural Health Minister. Senator Nash has been unable to wield any influence within the Coalition team to stop the cuts to Medicare, Rural Workforce Programs and hospital funding. These responsibilities will now fall to David Gillespie, who has been appointed Assistant Minister for Rural Health.
The appointment of David Gillespie provides the Government with an opportunity to reverse its disastrous handling of rural and regional health.
The first priority must be to follow Labor’s lead and unfreeze the Medicare rebate. This GP Tax by Stealth is having a profound impact on rural health services, particularly since many GPs know that patients in the bush cannot afford a $25 “co-payment”.
More and more rural GPs are ending bulk billing, simply because the rebate freeze has made it financially unsustainable.
The new look rural health team must also match Labor’s commitment to reverse cuts to bulk billing incentives for radiology and pathology. As things stand many patients outside of major cities will avoid the tests they need that could save their life.
Access to services, including blood tests and x rays, is already harder for patients in the bush and axing bulk billing incentives has only made the situation worse.
The Government must also commit to ending its harsh cuts to health programmes aimed at boosting rural health services.
In last year’s MYEFO Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison axed the Clinical Training Fund and Rural Health Continuing Education Programme.
It came on top of the Coalition’s axing of Health Workforce Australia and harsh cuts to:
- The Prevocational General Practice Placement Program.
- The Health Portfolio Flexible Fund, which includes the Rural Health Outreach Fund.
- The Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme.
- Health workforce scholarships.
The Coalition may have a new rural health team but there is no evidence that they plan to change their ways. Only Labor has a real plan to boost healthcare in the bush.