"The Abbott government's humiliating backdown on its proposed $20 GP rebate cut, further deepens the government's general political crisis," Susan Price, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Summer Hill in the March 28 NSW state election, said on January 22.
"The fact that the government was forced by a public outcry from doctors and the community to drop its plan to slash the Medicare rebate paid for GP consultations of less than 10 minutes is a major win for the movement to defend Medicare over the past 12 months," she said.
"The strong opposition to the rebate cut by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), community concerns and the likelihood of the measure being overturned in the Senate, combined to force the government into an abject retreat on the issue.
"The prospect of nationwide rallies called by the [Australian Council of Trade Unions] ACTU, and mass meetings of doctors organised by the AMA, for Sunday February 8, no doubt worried the government as well. Although these actions have now been put on hold, Abbott is on notice that public opposition to the attack on Medicare as a universal, national health system is strong and growing.”
"The challenge for the movement to save Medicare is to keep up the pressure this year, and to head off any possible compromise deals, which still threaten the basic integrity of the Medicare system."
New federal health minister Sussan Ley has started talks with the AMA and other health organisations to try to salvage the government's program to destroy Medicare.
Despite the withdrawal of the $20 GP short-consultation rebate cut, the government still plans to implement its overall $5 cut to Medicare rebates for non-concessional patients from July 1. This can be achieved by regulation, but can be overturned by the Senate.
Laws to allow doctors to charge a $5 fee will face fierce community opposition and likely defeat in the Senate as well.
In addition, and constituting a long-term threat to Medicare, the government is imposing an extension of the current freeze on indexation of all Medicare rebates until 2018. According to some estimates, this will mean a further $3 rebate cut over the next three years.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Frank Jones called on the health minister to also place the $5 rebate and indexation freeze on hold and consult with doctors. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on January 16: “He said Australian GPs provided ‘an excellent standard of care,’ but could not continue under ‘the present Medicare rebate system’.”
The ACTU also warned that, despite the government's backdown on the $20 rebate cut, the campaign to defend Medicare will continue.
In a statement on January 16 announcing, "Save Medicare rallies on hold," Australian Unions declared: "Together we sent a clear message to the Abbott government that we'll stand together and do what it takes to defend Medicare. But the fight's not over and we'll all be on standby ready to mobilise when Tony Abbott makes his next move on Medicare; remember he still wants to introduce a $5 co-payment.
"We will defend the Medicare Australian unions fought to establish 40 years ago — a universal and affordable health-care system for everyone."