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Government opts for major Medicare overhaul to ease pressure on hospitals

Nurses, paramedics and allied health professionals will soon be included in the delivery of primary care as Medicare faces the biggest overhaul in its 40-year history.

Jan 23, 2023, updated Jan 23, 2023
Health Minister Mark Butler has revealed a major study into Long Covid. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Health Minister Mark Butler has revealed a major study into Long Covid. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Labor is preparing to open up Medicare to a wider range of medical professionals in a bid to save universal health care.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Medicare system was struggling to keep up with demand.

“Too many people are turning up at emergency departments because they can’t get access to a GP and to primary health care,” he said on Monday.

Health Minister Mark Butler said those forced to show up to emergency departments added extra stress to an already overstretched system.

He suggested the rising cost of seeing a doctor was also part of the problem.

“The average gap fee is now more than the Medicare rebate fee itself,” he said.

“What this means is that too many Australians simply can’t get the care that they need, when and where they need it out in the community.”

For several months, the federal government has been working with medical associations and patient advocacy groups on ways to strengthen the Medicare system.

The report is expected to be published within weeks.

Butler said measures like capping out-of-pocket fees were being considered as part of the process.

“The question is whether on top of the traditional fee for service system, you add some sort of flexible funding that allows doctors to provide wraparound care,” he said.

The Liberal Party is attempting to sketch out political battlelines over the issue of health funding.

It has taken aim at the cut to subsidised mental health care, waiting lists for surgery at public hospitals and declining bulk billing rates.

Liberal frontbencher Sussan Ley accused the prime minister of selling out vulnerable Australians.

“Anthony Albanese promised to leave no one behind but when it comes to healthcare that is exactly what he is doing,” she said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston also raised doubts about the scheduled delivery of urgent care clinics, which are being rolled out to ease pressure on local doctors.

“We still don’t know the exact locations of these clinics, bringing to question if they will even be delivered at all,” she said.

Butler said he’ll have more to say on the clinics in the near future as he works with state and territory counterparts to decide the locations, “but we’re very, very confident that this commitment is on track”.

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