The AMA doesn’t want another Mediscare, but Labor has found its foothold
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid has told the National Press Club he hopes that “we’re not going see another Mediscare campaign”, despite the AMA being unhappy with the implementation of the government’s recently announced rebate overhaul, which has already prompted Mediscare rumblings. In his press club address, Khorshid spoke of the AMA’s vision for reforming the health system, with the association eager to capitalise on lessons from the pandemic. The AMA is calling for increased funding – especially for hospitals, noting Australia has historically under-invested in health – and an improved focus on preventative healthcare. Khorshid has said he wants the politics taken out of healthcare, so of course one of the first questions, from The Australian, focused on criticising the Victorian government’s lockdown. (Khorshid said the AMA supported the state’s response, and reiterated the need for people to get vaccinated if they wanted lockdowns to stop occurring.) It came as no surprise that the doctor did not want to see another Mediscare campaign, despite his misgivings over the amount of notice given for the July 1 changes, and the “sad reality” that Medicare funding has been “effectively cut” for 30 years. But with Labor leader Anthony Albanese tweeting a photo of a letter from Bob Hawke marking the launch of Medicare, it seems Albanese is marking the launch of Mediscare 2.0. Is it valid this time?
Ever since Sunday’s announced changes to 900 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, Labor has been flexing its scare-campaign muscles, with many arguing the proposed rebate changes actually vindicate its dubious but effective 2016 campaign tactic. Today appears to have been something of a soft launch, with some of Labor’s sharpest critics tweeting about Medicare being under attack, from federal MP Julian Hill (“the biggest attack on Medicare in decades”) to Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles (“Good morning to everyone except Scott Morrison, who’s cutting Medicare in the middle of a pandemic”). But you’d be hard-pressed to find a Labor MP who hasn’t commented on the issue in the past few days. It’s clear the scaremongering will form a key part of Labor’s election campaign, though with the changes going through on July 1, the attacks may lose their bite.
Health experts seem to agree that the changes to the MBS are both necessary and overdue, with Grattan Institute health economist Professor Stephen Duckett telling Guardian Australia that the review – undertaken by an independent advisory group comprising experts, doctors and consumer representatives – was about making sure the items and costings “are more reflective of contemporary practice”. But even those who agree with the changes think doctors and health funds need more time to adjust, with “chaos” and out-of-pocket costs likely if they are rushed through. On Sunday the AMA called for a six-month lead time to prepare for the update, but at today’s address, Khorshid appeared to accept that the changes will be going through on July 1, saying the association’s concerns had been “heard” by the government, which had agreed to provide more time for future rounds. (A “peace deal” was reportedly reached between the government and the AMA on Tuesday night, with the AMA to “co-design” future changes.)
The government still hasn’t admitted that the current changes are rushed, or offered to push them back by three to six months, as many experts are calling for. It’s obvious why. Leaving the proposed changes hanging in the air opens the party to a political weakness, and to Labor’s favourite kind of attack, during what is if not an election year then at least an election countdown. The Coalition will be hoping these Medicare tweaks go down smoothly, and are well and truly off the agenda by the time the election rolls around. If not, there might be some serious costs – for patients and politicians.
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Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid has told the National Press Club he hopes that “we’re not going see another Mediscare campaign”, despite the AMA being unhappy with the implementation of the government’s recently announced rebate overhaul, which has already prompted Mediscare rumblings. In his press club address, Khorshid spoke of the AMA’s vision for...
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