Politics — 27 June 2016

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has pledged more than $6.6 billion in extra funds for a range of health measures that would see dramatic increases in spending on hospitals and higher government payments for doctors.

In Goulburn in southern NSW yesterday, Senator Di Natale pledged $4bn in additional funding to public hospitals to 2020. The funding would reverse the Coal­ition’s lower health spending traject­ory announced in the 2014 budget.

Senator Di Natale, a former GP, also pledged $2.4bn in extra funding for the Medicare Benefits Scheme, to end the freeze on payments to doctors.

The Greens argue the move will protect bulk-billing. “Healthcare should be universal and every Australian deserves secure access to the services that they need,’’ Senator Di Natale said.

The freeze, introduced by the Gillard government and ­extended by the Abbott and Turnbull ­governments, had forced some reg­ional-based doctors’ practices to the brink, he said. “They simply cannot afford to operate under the freeze and will be forced to either pass on the cost to their patients or close altogether.’’

In a third announcement, ­Senator Di Natale pledged $280 million for rural mental health, including provision of short-term accommodation for patients and recruitment and training of mental health workers.

“Access to healthcare shouldn’t depend on your postcode,’’ he said. “Australians living in rural areas have a right to have their health needs met.’’

He called for the development of a national rural health plan that would establish key areas of need for remote Australians, “like an appropriate health workforce for the future, and develop strategies to improve health outcomes’’.

The Greens health policies come as Bill Shorten has pledged significant backing for health ­services, including $12.2bn over 10 years to also restore indexation for Medicare funding to doctors. Labor has made boosting health and education the centrepiece of its campaign.

Despite the freeze, bulk-billing rates have continued to grow over the past three years and are at a high of 84 per cent, compared with 79 per cent when Labor lost office.

This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 26 May 2016.

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