Labor will oppose Medicare rebate cut: Shorten

By political reporter Julie Doyle

The Federal Opposition has confirmed it will try to block a cut to the Medicare rebate for short consultations.

From Monday, the rebate for appointments lasting less than 10 minutes will be cut from $37.05 to $16.95.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said in many cases doctors would have to pass the cost onto patients.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would move to disallow the $20 cut when Parliament resumed next month, adding the change would be damaging for patients.

“Our position is unequivocal, it’s in black and white,” he said.

“We will oppose Tony Abbott absolutely changing the rebate system for our GPs, making it a lot harder and through this sneaky back-door method.

“We will say to Tony Abbott ‘you are not going to damage the Medicare system if we’ve got anything to do with it’.”

With Labor joining the Greens to support a disallowance motion, only another four votes are needed from the crossbench.

Independent Jacqui Lambie has already declared she would support a disallowance and fellow independents John Madigan and Nick Xenophon also appear likely to support the move.

The Palmer United Party is concerned about the rebate cut as it stands but is yet to reveal its position on a disallowance motion.

Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm and Family First’s Bob Day support the Government.

Price signals are an economic reform, Abbott says

Earlier, the Prime Minister defended the Government’s decision to cut the Medicare rebate for short consultations.

Mr Abbott told Fairfax radio these were difficult decisions but Medicare had to be sustainable.

He said the changes were designed to ensure doctors spent “reasonable” time with their patients.

“Just a few months ago the AMA was saying that they didn’t want to see six minute medicine, they didn’t want to support bulk billing clinics,” he said.

“They wanted to see doctors spending more time with their patients and that’s exactly what these changes are designed to produce.”

Mr Abbott said it was up to doctors to decide exactly how much patients were charged.

“This is a Government which is serious about economic reform and price signals in our health system is an economic reform.

“We’re serious about budget responsibility, is the Senate? Now that’s the question.”

Mr Abbott said Medicare must be sustainable and he has challenged the Opposition and the crossbench senators to put forward their own proposals.

“It seems that the Labor Party and the Senate are just not prepared to accept any tough decisions,” he said.

“That puts our nation in a very difficult position; that puts Medicare in a very difficult position.”