Following is a transcript of a press conference with Sussan held in Sydney – 18 Feb 2015

Craig Laundy: It’s great to have the Health Minister, the Honorable Sussan Ley and my good friend the Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie here in Reid for an afternoon of consulting with local GPs so without further ado Sussan welcome.

Minister Ley: Thank you very much Craig it’s lovely to be here in your electorate with my also good friend Dr David Gillespie, who is also part of medical brains trust as I embark on a national consultation to make sure that we build a sustainable, serious and workable Medicare policy for the future.

I want to thank Peter and Therese for letting us come and have a look through their practice, they will be at the consultations at Craig’s office that I am on my way to. It’s vital that doctors who work every day at the coal face, talk to us in Government about what works, what doesn’t, their thoughts, their ideas and having that frank and fearless feedback is absolutely invaluable.
I’ve just come from breakfast this morning on the Central Coast. There were 40 doctors and lots of different views in the room and the same for last night and I’m on my way to another part of the country to do something similar.

What I really want to make clear is that health policy is not a one size fits all and the difference with how it works in Canberra, or in my patch which is outback New South Wales or for Craig Laundy in the electorate of Reid and I will be keeping in touch with him and his community to ensure that what we bring down as a government is the best health policy with number one in mind, the patient, the person, the treatment and the journey through the health system.
Happy to take any questions.

Journalist: How long do you expect to be consulting GPs on the GP copayment before you make a call?

Minister Ley: I’ve got meetings booked in for a few weeks and this is not something that is going to go on indefinitely in terms of the short term policy challenges we face. But I will never stop sitting down, listening, talking and learning. As I said there are short term policy challenges but there are also long term policy challenges and as we enter a Federation White Paper process with state governments we have an opportunity to transform the arrangements in primary health care, which is general practice, and the hospital system because we want to keep people out of hospital and we need a strong general practice service to do that. As we know the cost of the hospital system is higher and therefore should only be used when most needed. So that’s a long term policy challenge and I’m happy to say that lots of people have really good ideas around.

Journalist: What are you going to be telling GPs on this national blitz about the copayment?

Minister Ley: I’m saying that by pressing the pause button on existing policy, I want to make sure that when we come down with a value signal in health that we get it right and that we have broad support from the medical profession. So if I can put it this way, there is broad support where ever I go for making sure that for those who cannot afford to go to the doctor can go without payment that the bulk billing is there to protect the vulnerable. But for those who can afford to pay they do that and those who can pay a little bit more they also do that. This is so that we ensure that we keep Medicare sustainable because ultimately we all know that doing nothing is not an option as these costs build and the demand on the health dollar increases.

Journalist: What are the GPs telling you about how they feel about any copayment going toward future medical research?

Minister Ley: Medical research is something that everyone recognizes, and no more so than general practice, that to have the world class health system that we do in this country it is underpinned by three things. High quality treatment and care, a strong education and training system for new doctors and medical research. Unless you have those things working together patient outcomes will not continue to improve. So medical research is vital.

Now the fund is a commitment that I endorse whole heartily and there is money coming into it from various sources and we are very committed to it reaching its $20 billion capacity by 2020 and by that point on it will allocate around a billion dollars a year. While I’m in this consultative phase, I’m not going to make demands on doctors as to where particular dollars go. I want to ensure that by listening to them I get their ideas.

Journalist: Can you guarantee that any money raised through the copayment will go to the medical research fund?

Minister Ley: We’re undertaking a listening consultation. I’m not saying to doctors this is what we’re going to do. I’m saying what would you like to see us do? We’ve pressed the pause button, at some stage we’ll restart and push the restart button and then clearly they’ll be a policy that everyone can live with, appreciate, approve of and work towards. That is our very strong commitment not just to doctors but to patients to get this absolutely right.

Journalist: Can you explain the difference between a value signal and a copayment?

Minister Ley: Well there is already a value signal but perhaps it’s not working as well as it may. What we mean is that people need to value the services that their GPs provide and accept that unless you’re in a vulnerable category maybe those services don’t come absolutely for free and that where there is an ability to pay that you value the high quality service that you receive that you do indeed pay something. When I look at the number of bulk-billed consultations across the country 76 per cent of all episodes of care are bulk-billed to non-concessional patients. What that tells us is that there are too many consultations costing nothing for those who can afford to pay something. So we have to get that balance right because ultimately governments don’t have money and the Medicare rebate is for the patient and it’s their money to enable them to access the doctor and have the high quality consultation. We’ve got to make sure that those who can afford pay a little bit more and we continue to protect the vulnerable through bulk-billing.

Journalist: How confidant are you that doctors are going to get behind you guys on this GP copayment?

Minister Ley: When I sit down and speak with doctors there are so many things that we agree about that I absolutely know that when we come forward with a policy that works for general practice, that works for government in a tough fiscal environment it will be endorsed by everyone and that’s why these consultations are important and why broad agreement moving forward is absolutely vital. My number one message to general practice is that we value what you do because you are the front line and we need to keep you strong.