Transcript - Media conference - Ballarat Medicare Urgent Care Clinic

JOURNALIST: So, starting off, obviously, it's a special day today. Why are we here?

CATHERINE KING [MINISTER]: Well, happy birthday, Medicare. It's 40 years since Medicare started. It was a huge initiative of a federal Labor government and to hear some of the stories today about what life was like before Medicare. We take it for granted - it's important that we never do that, that we take every opportunity to strengthen it but also to celebrate how important it's been to the provision of universal health care here in Australia. Affordable hospital treatment, access to GPs and access to specialists has been part of the hallmark for Medicare for 40 years. And it's a happy birthday to Medicare today.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, perfect. And what have we seen here in Ballarat? Obviously, since this clinic, I guess has been taken over by Medicare.

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. So, this now is one of the Medicare Urgent Care Clinics that are opening all the way across the country. We saw the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health in one just yesterday and it's a great opportunity to really say thank you to the staff. These are important clinics that are providing low level care that is needed - that might need cut with some stitches, some infection control. Someone might be dehydrated and just need a drip and some treatment for that migraine. Things that really shouldn't be presenting to our emergency departments but are just a little bit beyond your normal GP consultation and really do need that treatment - providing care after hours. Fairly happy that this clinic is now part of the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic fold.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, and you touched on some bulk billing statistics before?

CATHERINE KING: So, today we've seen the announcement that bulk billing has started to go up again thanks to the federal Labor government's commitment to triple the bulk billing incentive. Here in our region, what that has meant in the October-December period is there were 6,000 consultations that were bulk billed - more consultations that were bulk billed, which has meant a savings of around $270,000 that patients haven't had to pay out of their own pockets here in our community. We know that because of, frankly, the decade of neglect, the wrecking that was done to our Medicare system by the previous government, particularly frankly when Peter Dutton was Health Minister, that bulk billing was in decline. It is now starting to come up again. Of course, there is more work we have to do but it's a start. It's really important. And for those 6,000 consultations that were done, that's a huge saving for patients in our region. Combining that with our cheaper medicines policy, trying to make sure that medicines are cheaper - first time that's been done in a very long time. Hopefully, we're starting to see the turning of the corner for the better provision of health care in this country.

JOURNALIST: Yeah. And on that note, I'm going to switch to the Canberra questions, but one's regarding that - that ten-year freeze on Medicare rebates that stripped nearly $4 billion from primary care. So, what are your thoughts on this part of Medicare system?

CATHERINE KING: Well, Peter Dutton should be absolutely ashamed of himself. I was Shadow Health Minister and I was shocked. That 2014 budget, we're seeing a bit of that replayed on the ABC at the moment through the program 'Nemesis'. That 2014 budget where Peter Dutton proudly tried to impose a GP tax on every single patient in this country, tried to make hospital treatment more expensive by cuts to hospitals, and also tried to impose a tax on pharmaceuticals as well. That decade of neglect, that decade of wrecking of Medicare, is why the bulk billing was in decline. It’s why patients were paying more and more to see a doctor. That is Peter Dutton's legacy to the healthcare system. It's why the AMA voted him the worst Health Minister ever. That's a pretty amazing title. That's what we've got. That's the ten-year legacy we've got. And Minister Butler, as Health Minister, is doing a great job trying to turn that downturn that around. But it's a terrible and shameful legacy by Peter Dutton.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, and another question. So, yeah, you made a lot of promises about changing Medicare when you were the Shadow Health Minister, including a cancer care plan. Has the Labor government followed through on any of these promises?

CATHERINE KING: Well, obviously, they were things that we took to the 2016 election and the 2019 election. We have had a 2022 election. We are enacting the policies that Labor took to the 2022 election and I'm standing here in one of the many Medicare Urgent Care Clinics across the country, tripling at the bulk billing incentive, really ensuring that primary care is absolutely working for Australians, that we are strengthening Medicare every single day and that we have been increasing the Commonwealth's contribution to our hospital system as well. I'm very proud of that legacy. Minister Butler is enacting all of those promises, plus more, and it's great to see that all happening.

JOURNALIST: Yeah. And unfortunately, thousands of Aussies aren't going to the doctor when they need it because it simply costs too much. Medicare is meant to make healthcare affordable. What work needs to be done to, I guess, get this system working?

CATHERINE KING: Well, the tripling of the bulk billing incentive has been a significant change. That's billions of dollars that now the Commonwealth is contributing to make sure that we make sure primary care - GP care, is affordable for patients, ensuring that we keep faith with the free public hospital treatment. That is also what Medicare is about. It's hard to turn, frankly, ten years of neglect started by Peter Dutton, continued by Sussan Ley, to be frank, under the freezing of the Medicare rebate. Hard to turn that around quickly. But this increase in the bulk billing rates today is a really welcome start. And the cheaper medicines is also now really important for our community here locally.

JOURNALIST: And last one, what can we expect to see - when can we expect to see the report on the AIS review?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I haven't seen it yet. It may have come into my department and they'll be doing some briefing notes for me. I haven't seen it as yet, but as soon as we're ready to, we'll have something to say about that. Obviously, I know how important the AIS is and how interested people in Canberra are about its future, but I haven't seen the report as of yet. It has been asked to be given to my department. But it's the first of February, so we'll have something to say about that shortly.

JOURNALIST: Perfect. Thank you so much, Catherine. I really appreciate your time.