BY CHRIS SLEE
MELBOURNE — On September 5, 600 people participated in a rally and march to defend and extend Medicare. The rally was called in response to the federal government's refusal to ensure universal free access to general practitioners' consultations.
The Medicare rebate to GPs who bulk-bill has been allowed to fall behind the rate of inflation, causing a sharp decline in the proportion of doctors who bulk-bill.
The private health insurance rebate is subsidising private health insurance companies and private hospitals and diverting resources away from Medicare and public hospitals.
New legislation to be introduced into the federal parliament soon will encourage doctors to eliminate bulk-billing except for concession-card holders.
Speakers at the rally were Rod Wilson from the Medicare Action Group, a coalition of 150 organisations including unions and churches; Helen Lee, a community activist who has campaigned around health issues and Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Leigh Hubbard.
The rally was also addressed by Greens senator Kerry Nettle, Democrats senator Lyn Allison, Labor federal health spokesperson Julia Gillard and Joe Toscano, joint coordinator of Defend and Extend Medicare (DEM), which organised the rally.
Nettle, Allison and Gillard advocated an increase in the Medicare rebate to doctors who bulk-bill. Nettle also said she would move in the Senate to abolish the private health insurance rebate and use the money saved to fund Medicare and extend it to other services such as dentistry.
Gillard made no mention of the private health insurance rebate.
Toscano said that over the next 12 months DEM aims to establish local groups in every federal electorate around Australia, and to hold rallies across the country. He urged those present to get involved in their local group or form a group where one does not exist.
DEM is planning another demonstration on October 3 starting at 5pm at the State Library.
From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.
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