29 October 2009
The Coalition has called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to step-in and sort out Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s cataract rebate blunder.
Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton said the Prime Minister’s intervention was necessary because the situation was clearly completely beyond the control of the Minister.
Mr Dutton said the Minister’s attempt today to tinker with the savage 50% cut to Medicare rebates that she’d planned was nothing more than a tricky game.
“Essentially what the Minister said is that patients will now be just under $300 worse off as opposed to just over $300 worse off.”
“No patient needing cataract surgery is going to think she has retreated one bit from her callous rebate cuts.”
The Government had budgeted to cut rebates for cataract surgery from $623.70 to $312.63. But after the Senate yesterday disallowed the changes, Minister Roxon’s solution was to increase the rebate to $340.76 – a paltry $28 rise.
Mr Dutton said Ms Roxon was treating patients, taxpayers and the media as fools.
“She has no concern for patients – all she is doing is playing tricky political games.”
“Minister Roxon just doesn’t seem to understand,” Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration Senator Mathias Cormann said.
“The Senate yesterday sent a very clear message: That we do not want you (Minister Roxon) to cut this rebate for cataract surgery, we do not want you to hurt patients, we do not want you to impose $300 in additional out-of-pocket expenses and we do not want you to push people over into public hospitals or into not having the surgery at all.”
Mr Dutton said the government was simply plucking figures out of the air and had no real knowledge of what it was doing.
He said the Rudd Government claimed that technology had made cataract surgery faster and now only took 15 minutes to perform and therefore rebates for the procedure could be drastically reduced, but it had produced no evidence to back up its claims.
“Comparing procedures in Australia to operations performed in Third World countries is a ridiculous analogy.”
Mr Dutton and Senator Cormann said the solution was simple: Return the rebates to patients to their current levels ($623). Then begin meaningful negotiations with ophthalmologists about fees and rebates – a process that should have been undertaken in the first place before embarking on cruel ill-considered cuts to rebates which would force people to pay hundreds of dollars more for life-changing treatment.
They said the Government now had two weeks before Parliament resumed to reconsider its position.
“The Coalition stands by its commitment to do everything we can to ensure the current rebates remain,” Senator Cormann said.
“This is about putting patients first – the Coalition, independent Senator Nick Xenophon, Family First Senator Steve Fielding and the Greens have done that,” Senator Cormann said.
“The Rudd Government is determined to punish them,” Mr Dutton added.