Abbott Announces Medicare Plus Deal With Senate Independents

The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has secured passage of his MedicarePlus package through the Senate, following a deal with four senators.

The deal with Senators Brian Harradine, Len Harris (One Nation), Shayne Murphy (ex-ALP) and Meg Lees (ex-Democrats) gives the government the 4 additional votes it needs to pass the legislation 39-37.

Amongst other measures, the deal involves a reduction in the level of the annual threshold for concession card holders. It also provides for incentives for bulk-billing doctors in non-metropolian areas and Tasmania. Harradine and Murphy both represent Tasmania.

  • Listen to Abbott’s press conference with Harradine, Lees, Harris & Murphy (19m)

Text of a media release from the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott.


The Government has agreed with Senators Harradine, Harris, Lees and Murphy to further improve MedicarePlus. Australians will have a better health system thanks to the Senators’ insights and persistence.

The MedicarePlus safety net is an important structural improvement to the Medicare system to help people cope with the costs of out-of-hospital procedures (such as MRI, CT scans, ultrasound, and specialist visits) which have never been widely bulk-billed.

The independent and minor party Senators will move an amendment to the MedicarePlus safety net legislation to reduce the annual threshold to $300 for Commonwealth concession card holders and family tax beneficiaries and $700 for others. The new safety net will be available to everyone and will benefit about 450,000 individuals and families in any one year. For people in the safety net, the rebate will be the standard rebate plus 80 per cent of any gap between the rebate and the charged fee. For instance, if someone in the safety net is charged $40 for a 15 minute GP consultation, the rebate will be $37 ($25 plus 80 per cent of the $15 gap) rather than the standard $25.

The new safety net benefits will be claimable from the day after the legislation receives royal assent and the benefits will be automatic once people have registered and passed the threshold.

The extended MedicarePlus safety net will cost an additional $174 million to 1 July, 2007.

The Government will introduce a $7.50 incentive for bulk-billed GP consultations with concession card holders and children under 16 in non-metropolitan areas (RRMAs 3-7) and Tasmania. This increased bulk-billing incentive, targeted to areas where bulk-billing rates are generally low, will replace the earlier $5 incentive in these areas and will be payable from 1 May.

The additional non-metropolitan bulk-billing incentive will cost $131 million to 1 July, 2007.

The Government will introduce a new MBS item for the services of allied health professionals (such as psychologists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, dieticians and chiropractors) delivered “for and on behalf of” GPs under a Multidisciplinary Care Plan. This should mean less “prescription medicine” and a more “holistic” primary health care system.

Under the Enhanced Primary Care program introduced in 1999, GPs can involve at least two allied health professionals in developing a Multidisciplinary Care Plan for people with chronic and complex health conditions. The new item will cover up to five allied health professional consultations (at $80 initially and $35 subsequently) delivered under a Care Plan.

Some chronic and complex conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes) can benefit from dental treatment. Where dental problems are significantly exacerbating chronic medical conditions treated under a Multidisciplinary Care Plan, a further “for and on behalf of” MBS item will be available for up to three dental consultations (at $220 for the program of treatment). This is a health care measure not a dental care scheme and will only be available where dental treatment is required to treat a chronic medical condition.

It’s estimated that GPs will prepare 150 000 Care Plans a year involving 680 000 allied health consultations. In addition, dental services will be provided for up to 23 000 people under Multidisciplinary Care Plans. These allied health measures will cost $121 million to 1 July, 2007.

The Government will fund an additional 12 medical school places a year at James Cook University at a cost of $1.1 million to 1 July, 2007. These places will provide James Cook University with a permanent increase in medical student numbers to help meet the needs of Queensland regional and rural communities.

In coordination with State Governments, the Government will commence state-wide roll outs of the HealthConnect integrated medical records system in Tasmania and South Australia from July 1. Tasmania has the best broadband access and South Australia already has an integrated hospital information network. An integrated health record system should mean better patient care (through fewer medical mistakes) and lower ultimate costs (through less duplication). The Government will spend $80 million on HealthConnect to 1 July, 2007 (which is already in the forward estimates).

The Government will extend GP workforce programs and the rural locum scheme to “areas of consideration” which are rural in character but are in the same Statistical Local Area as a large town. This cost will be met out of existing program allocations.

New MedicarePlus spending is $427.5 million bringing the total cost of MedicarePlus to $2.85 billion. The Howard Government will invest what’s needed to protect and strengthen the Medicare system.

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