What I’m hearing
Finding a GP that bulk bills can be difficult and Canberrans often have to wait a very long time, or even travel to Sydney, to see a specialist. Accessing mental health services is particularly challenging and the pandemic has made wait times worse. Changes to Medicare have seen some out-of-pocket costs go up, especially on tests like MRIs. Dealing with the NDIA is difficult and there is real fear and anger about changes to support under the NDIS. People are anxious to make sure they can access an appropriate standard of care as they and their loved one get older.
Access to affordable, high-quality healthcare is one of the things that makes Australia the lucky country. But data shows Canberrans are more likely to shoulder out-of-pocket costs than Australians living in any other state or territory, and we are facing longer-than-average wait times for a range of healthcare services.
I will work to ensure everyone in our community has access to the health, disability, aged, specialist and mental health care they need, when they need it, and that cost isn’t a barrier to this care. I will stand up for the ACT receiving its fair share of federal healthcare funding.
Access to affordable healthcare
Official data from the Department of Health shows that the ACT has the lowest bulk-billing rates for GPs in the nation, at 72.2% from July to December 2021. In the last quarter of 2021, just 34.6% of specialist attendances were bulk billed in the ACT – almost 10% below the average for the nation (44.3%). Canberrans also bear the cost of diagnostic imaging at a higher rate than other jurisdictions with just 65% of our scans being bulk billed. This is significantly lower than for the rest of the country, with the national average sitting at 85%.
A recent review of Medicare by the Australian Institute of Medical Administration and Compliance has warned of widespread illegal billing practices, suggesting our bulk-billing rates are even worse than reported in the official data. This is an issue I will pursue in Parliament to make sure we have a clear picture of the state of bulk billing in the ACT.
A separate report by the Grattan Institute shows that Australia has some of the highest out-of-pocket health costs in the OECD. The ABS estimates that nationwide 400,000 people delayed or missed a GP appointment in 2020-21 because they could not afford the out-of-pocket costs. Around 500,000 delayed or missed specialist appointments for the same reason.
This is a cyclical problem; the more we miss our medical appointments, the worse our health becomes and the more we need to spend on it as a consequence. I am committed to turning this around by working collaboratively with healthcare providers as well as the Territory and Commonwealth governments to design and implement new solutions that ease the costs of care for Canberrans, and Australians more broadly.
There are no easy solutions, as our Medicare system simply hasn’t kept pace with how our country and healthcare industry has evolved over the past 30 years. I will not shy away from advocating for the big solutions that will make our healthcare system more sustainable, and more affordable for patients over the long term. This will include looking at how we fund diagnostic imaging and pathology services to better support people to manage multiple prescriptions.
More specialists closer to home
I will hold governments accountable for the effective and timely implementation of the ten-year National Medical Workforce Strategy 2021-2031.
Working in partnership with the Federal Department of Health and the ACT Government, I will support the rollout of policies to train and attract more specialists to Canberra, thereby reducing wait times and in some cases the need to travel to access these services. I will focus on the areas of dermatology, ophthalmology and psychiatry, where there is a nationwide shortage that is also being felt locally.
This is an area where we need to see different realms of public policy coming together. Providing more affordable housing for frontline healthcare workers, for instance, or investing in the future of our city to make it an even more desirable place in which to live and work.
Extra resourcing for mental health
Recent increases in funding for mental health services follow a sustained period of under-investment and therefore need to be maintained over the long-term.
I will fight to see the ACT receive its fair share of funding on mental health and to ensure that the recently announced bilateral agreement with the federal government (as part of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement) delivers on what has been promised as quickly as possible.
I support the ACT Government’s advocacy for the Federal Government to fund a dedicated veterans wellbeing centre in Canberra, noting they have already funded centres in Townsville, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Wodonga, Nowra, south-east Queensland and Tasmania. As Minister Davidson has pointed out, the ACT is home to some 26,000 veterans, the highest number of DVA clients per capita of any capital city in Australia.
A higher standard of care for older Australians
We have a duty of care to our older Australians that ought to be every bit as strong as that to our children. There needs to be a faster, more comprehensive response to the horrors exposed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and its 148 wide-ranging recommendations. We can and must do better in caring for the older members of our community with dignity and respect, as well as increasing support for those whose job it is to look after them.
In the ACT, some 632 of our seniors are still waiting to get access to a Home Care Package at their approved level, according to the most recent data. There is a shortage of places in residential aged care generally, and particularly in some of our biggest and fastest growing areas. Speaking with community leaders, I’m told the Gungahlin district, with a population of more than 85,000 people, doesn’t yet have a single residential aged-care bed.
Our aged-care workers have had one of the toughest jobs throughout the pandemic. Aged-care residents and their families have found lockdowns extremely hard. We need to make sure older Australians have access to the quality of care they need with a workforce that receives appropriate support. This includes improving training, wages, qualifications, and staff-to-resident ratios. I will work for meaningful reform in our aged-care sector by holding the Australian Government to account on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and by making sure the ACT receives its fair share of funding.
Sustaining the NDIS
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a vital service that profoundly impacts the lives of many living within our community. Indeed, it is essential to realising the vision of Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-31, the purpose of which is to enable an inclusive society where people with disability can fulfil their potential as equal members of the community.
In the last six months of 2021, 34% of NDIS participants saw cuts of more than 5% of their budget. In roughly the same time period, an extra 1,423 people with disabilities asked the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review – a 400% increase in people disputing the contents of their NDIS plans. I’ve also heard and seen reports of people being turned away from the NDIS.
While financial sustainability is critical, cutting individual plans and spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars fighting appeals is not the solution.
I recognise the immense economic benefit the NDIS renders to our nation. Recent modelling by think tank Per Capita found that every dollar invested in the scheme delivered a return of $2.25, mostly as a result of the jobs the scheme creates and the money it puts back into local businesses.
Despite these facts, much of the public narrative has focussed on supposed ‘cost blow-outs’ and the unsustainability of the scheme long-term. This serves only to create anxiety among those who rely on this important scheme every day. We need to change the narrative from continually talking about the NDIS as ‘an issue’ to talking about how we can secure the scheme now and into the future.
I will fight for the long-term security of the NDIS, working with the Federal Government on a funding guarantee that gives current and future participants the confidence and certainty they need to get on with their lives, without fear that their plans could be cut with each passing budget.
I will not support any new independent assessment measures that would force participants to undertake even more evaluations that may lead to their funding being cut. And I will hold the NDIA to account for each dollar it spends on legal representation to fight the people it is supposed to serve.
Getting medicines on the PBS faster
An analysis of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) applications over the past 10 years shows that on average it takes 820 days – or over two years – for a new medicine to be listed on the PBS after it has been approved as safe and effective by the TGA.
For many patients, a delay in treatment of just one month can mean the difference between that person missing their child’s wedding or spending the rest of their life in hospital. I will be fighting for reforms that bring down the listing wait times, ensuring patients have access to the potentially life-extending and life-saving medicines they need.