Is the end of Medicare near?

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The end of Medicare may be looming if the changes to the Australian health system indicated by the Abbott government are actioned, according to Labor’s health spokesperson.

Writing in today’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, Catherine King has raised alarm about what the future holds for the Australian health system if means testing is introduced.

The response comes after health minister Peter Dutton questioned the health expenditure of Australia and whether or not high income earners should be able to see a doctor free of charge.

He has proposed means-testing on bulk-billing on GP visits, blood tests, X-rays and other diagnostic services.

But King said Dutton is targeting the wrong people.

“Visits to doctors are paid for through the Medical Benefits Schedule. The biggest growth in Medical Benefits Schedule expenditure has been in specialist services, not to GPs. So why should GPs and the people who visit their local GP be the government's focus of attack?” she wrote.

Means testing Medicare will result in the government paying less for healthcare, leaving Australians to pick up the tab, said King, adding that taxpayers already contribute to Medicare according to their capacity to do so - with high income-earners paying more through the Medicare levy surcharge or being required to take out private health insurance.

Making GPs - who are at the cheapest end of the health system - more expensive, will cause people to end up in hospitals, at the expensive end of the system.

“If more and more medical practices are given less incentive to encourage access for vulnerable people, their access will be increasingly restricted,” wrote King. “Value for money is not just about cost but what people get from Medicare…means testing and privatisation are not the answer to questions about how we manage health expenditure.”

The Medicare system was introduced 30 years ago on the principle that all Australians should have equal access to healthcare.

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