JUSTIN SMITH: The Government has promised to pause, listen and consult over changes to Medicare, whether it be co-payments and rebates, will you be one of the groups they are consulting with?
STEPHEN JONES: I’d like to think so. Look can I start by saying I welcome the fact that they have finally come to their senses on dumping the plan, a mad plan, to slash the Medicare rebate by $20 dollars for short consultations. I think it was the wrong plan and doctors were right to turn their surgeries into a protest zone to point out the problems with it. But there is unfished business, the GP Tax Susan Ley made quite clear in her statement is still on the table and the freeze on rebates is still on the table. They should be putting a stop to those plans and sitting down and talking with the profession, health consumers and yes, the Opposition as well about what needs to be done.
SMITH: I would like to clear up a rumour if you don’t mind, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but there has been a suggestion floating around that I had heard – I hadn’t gone to air with this – that the Opposition had signaled that they would be keen to support this rebate of $20 dollars for short visits over the last 12 months.
JONES: I can put the rumour to bed here and now because I was involved in those discussions. When the proposals were announced, just about at Christmas Eve by the way, we said that we are not going to have a bar of the GP Tax but we will have a look at all of the other proposals and we will talk to the medical profession, we’ll work through all of the consequences of these things. Having done that, and I think that is what a responsible government should – what a responsible opposition should do I should say – having spoken to the groups we heard that there were far too many problems with it, we are not going to go with it. It is in fact a GP Tax through the back door.
SMITH: So it is something that you had never seriously kicked around?
JONES: It is something that we never seriously gave anyone a green light to. We said we will have a look at it and see whether it stacks up as an idea, we will consult the profession, consult with the users groups, the patients and the like and on the basis of those consultations we said no this just can’t work.
SMITH: What will you agree to here? There is now talk of a watered-down GP co-payment of $5 dollars. Let’s get it on the table, will you agree to that?
JONES: Let’s just start with the problem that they suppose they are going to fix. The Government says that Medicare is unsustainable, we actually don’t agree with that. If you look at the figures, we are spending fractionally less as a proportion of government outlays on Medicare today as we were 10 years ago. Yes the headline numbers are large, but my house is worth more than it was 10 years ago as well, and I earn more and most people earn more today than they did 10 years ago. So you’ve got to look at these things in proportion, we are spending fractionally less today than we were 10 years ago as a proportion of government outlays. We need to continually review what we are paying through the Medicare system as every other part of the government outlays and that is the way you go about it. You look at things, you say okay this procedure, whether it is a hip replacement or whatever it is, we are getting a lot better at them than we were 30 years ago when they first started doing them - is the cost of that right as a proportion of what we are paying out of the Medicare purse? You continue to look at all of those procedures and that is what we did when we were in government, we did the same thing with medicines, you continually review what you are paying for various procedures and you ensure that you are getting the best bang for the taxpayers buck.
SMITH: I appreciate that, but just if I could go back to the question – I asked you what you would accept. The $5 dollars has been floated here, and thanks for clearing up your position, but what will the Opposition back here? What will you allow to go through? What will you support?
JONES: We will not be supporting a co-payment -
SMITH: Even if it’s 50 cents -
JONES: We have been very clear; we will not be supporting a co-payment. We get ourselves into ridiculous territory when we talk about what if it’s one cent, what if it’s two cents? Clearly that is not what the Government is proposing. It would cost more to administer and in fact that is part of the doctor’s problems, you are spending just as much on administrative as you are in collecting and by the way none of the money goes back into the Medicare system. It goes off into a separate fund -
SMITH: A separate fund that is -
JONES: Inaudible] the problem you are trying to fix here, because this is not an answer to the problem that you are trying to tell Australians exist.
SMITH: It’s a separate fund for medical research -
JONES: Which we all support by the way.
SMITH: Is there a chance of that ever happening?
JONES: Look I think there is a chance of that happening. As we responsibly put together our election propositions I would foreshadow that there would be something that we would be have to say about medical research and we have a team working on just that very proposition at the moment. What we won’t do is tax the sick to fund a cure in the future or a proposition in the future, we don’t think that’s not fair.
SMITH: Someone listening to this might say well how in the hell are you going to pay for it? You want it but where does the money come from?
JONES: Well it’s not as if you look at the health portfolio in isolation from all of the others. We are not going to look at one thing in isolation.
SMITH: I appreciate your time Mr. Jones, thank you.
JONES: It’s been great to talk to you.