LNP a 'festering sore': Doctor visits to cost $30-$40 more

GLADSTONE Doctor John Bird has diagnosed the Liberal National Party as having a "festering sore" of a policy going into the July 2 federal election.

Labor announced yesterday it would lift the freeze on Medicare payments on January 1, 2017 if elected, three years earlier than the Coalitions' plan for 2020.

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Dr Bird said this was the biggest divide between the two party's policies in the election campaign so far.

"What business can survive a seven year price freeze," he said after working with the freeze since 2013 when Labor introduced it.

"The whole thing is pure madness."

Dr Bird who is practice director of Gladstone GP Superclinic said if the freeze continued until 2020 it would have a cascade effect on the healthcare system and taxpayers.

"As the pressures ramp up on medical centres to make money there will be a reduction in bulk billing," he said.

Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett has hypothesised that the freeze would result in general practitioners' income being reduced by 10.6% by the 2017-18 financial year.

He said the pressure from this decrease would force them to charge patients a $30-$40 co-payment to make up the difference.

Dr Bird said this would result in patients delaying early diagnosis to avoid the cost until they were forced to go to a hospitals with a more serious illness.

With general practitioners receiving 25% of the $154.6 billion national health expenditure, Dr Bird said the freeze was about shifting costs from the federal budget to the states' budgets.

Dr Bird said general practitioners were the cheapest investment for the healthcare system compared to in hospital care which was more expensive but ultimately on the state government budget.

Liberal National Party Senator Matt Canavan disagreed with Dr Bird stating the number of presentations at hospitals had not increased as a result of the freeze which was put in place by Labor in 2013.

"Bulk billing rates are increasing with the bulking billing rate at more than 80%," he said.

He said the government could not afford to lift the freeze and questioned how Labor was going to fund the move to put Medicare inline with indexation.

"We simply don't have the money and the Labor party are just going to put it on the credit card," he said.

"They continually want to spend the money."

Labor candidate for Flynn Zac Beers said his party was funding the change to medicare by not giving tax cuts to multinational companies.

"We have a very firm view that access to healthcare should be based  on your  Medicare card and not your credit card," he said. 

He agreed with Dr Bird that if the Medicare freeze continues, costs would have to be passed onto patients or medical facilities could not be maintained.

But for Dr Bird, if the freeze continues the stress on the in-hospital care will be a greater burden on the health care system than the indexation increases of Medicare would have ever been.



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