Adjournment: Cuts to Bulk Billing

February 13, 2020

From January this year, the Morrison government and his Department of Health implemented the Modified Monash Model, which decides how much of an incentive doctors in regional areas receive to bulk bill. This new scale is based on more contemporary data, which is a good thing, but in regional areas like mine they have fallen through the cracks. The electorate of Paterson has fallen through the cracks of this new data collection and Monash model. Unbelievably, areas like Port Stephens, Maitland and Kurri Kurri have been reclassified from regional to metropolitan.

I was born in Kurri Kurri Hospital, a thing that I'm incredibly proud of as no babies are born there anymore; they all go into Maitland Hospital, which is a superb hospital. How is it that my home town of Kurri Kurri, of about 6,000 people, is now classified as the same as Sydney—that enormous metropolis?

If you've ever been to Kurri, you'll know it is a beautiful place. We won tidy town of the year for the whole country. We have the most amazing murals. Bus loads of people come to Kurri to look at our enormous murals. The trick is you've got to be able to find the kookaburra in every mural. It's a wonderful town. We have the Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival, where we get hundreds of beautiful vintage cars. About 50,000 people come to our little town over a weekend to dance rock-and-roll, to wear their most beautiful full circular skirts and to crack out the Brylcreem. It is a wonderful, great place.

The sense of community in Kurri Kurri comes from the fact that it was the first planned town in Australia that was specifically built to support the mining communities and the pits that we had around the area.

Mr Gee:  And the Bulldogs.

Ms SWANSON:  And the mighty Kurri Kurri Bulldogs—I'll take that interjection from the member of Calare. Go the doggies!

Of course, the people who live in Kurri now have a great sense of community but they're really worried about their health. These changes mean that doctors in Kurri, and in Paterson more generally, face a 34 per cent cut in the financial incentive to bulk bill. Countless practices and doctors have been really good. They've been ringing me saying: 'Come and have a meeting with us. We really need you to understand this problem.' Countless local practices have told me that they've been forced to stop bulk billing patients because of the cuts, while others have warned that these changes will render them unviable altogether. I even know of a development application for a new bulk billing medical practice that has been withdrawn because they know they can't afford to open it. In a regional area, that is scandalous.

A 34 per cent might not sound like a lot, but the math is astounding. There are medical centres in my community that bulk bill around people an hour across several doctors, and they're running at capacity. In just a five day week, operating from 8am to 6pm, they will lose $1,300 per week. That amounts to $67,000 a year. That's the equivalent of about two staff wages for administration. They're thinking of having to stop bulk billing or potentially having to cut people's jobs. There are those two casual staff that add up to $67,000, so the choice of the practice owner is, 'Do I let my staff go, or do I stop bulk billing?' What sort of a choice is that in a small community town?

Since January this year, I've heard from literally thousands of people in my community who have been or will be affected by these cuts. They're single parent families, people with children, pensioners, concession card holders—the list goes on.

These are the people who had to save up, in some cases, to get medical attention. Price should never prevent Australians from seeking medical attention, not in Australia in 2020.

These changes to bulk-billing do not make sense to me or my community. But don't just take it from me. I have set-up an online petition. Thousands of people have signed it and hundreds have made comments and shared it. Check out my Facebook page for more details.