KATE WALSH - Illawarra Mercury
‘‘Hands off Medicare.’’
That was the message hundreds of Illawarra residents chanted as they gathered at Wollongong’s Civic Plaza on Saturday for the Save Medicare rally.
Among the crowd were pensioners, parents and students opposed to proposed changes to the healthcare system, including the introduction of a $7 co-payment for GP visits and a price increase for prescription medications.
Placards expressing their distaste were raised and waved as MPs and health professionals addressed the throng.
‘‘If pain persists, see your Senator’’ read one sign, while the words ‘‘Budget 2014: banking on sickness’’ were scrawled across another.
The rally’s speakers included South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, Cunnigham MP Sharon Bird, chair of the Australian Medical Students Association John Cherry and Julie Ljubovic from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.
A speech from a fired-up Stephen Jones earned some of the biggest cheers from the crowd.
‘‘This is an issue that unites us across the generations,’’ the Throsby MP said.
He warned the co-payment could cost Illawarra residents, from Helensburgh to the Shoalhaven, more than $20 million in the first year.
‘‘Make no mistake about it, this proposal is going to do exactly what the Coalition want it to do. It’s going kill bulk billing and it’s the thin edge of a very thick wedge which will kill Medicare.’’
Among the protesters was Balgownie’s Cherie Devries, who visits the doctor several times a month for multiple health issues.
She takes 10 different prescription medications to manage these conditions, and needs regular blood tests to monitor their effects.
‘‘I’m totally against what Tony Abbott and the Liberal party are doing, they’ve taken no consideration for the smaller people in the community,’’ she said.
‘‘Being on the disability pension, I couldn’t afford it [the $7 co-payment].’’
Fairy Meadow’s Lindsay Hawkins said he attended the rally because the co-payment would stretch an already tight budget if he or his two children became sick.
‘‘I’m a part-time disability support worker, and if I need to take a day off work it will cost me money to get a medical certificate. It all adds up, and we’re under enough financial strain as it is in Wollongong, ’’ he said.
‘‘Seven dollars is just the beginning, it opens