Government scolded over health safety net promise By Mike Seccombe April 12, 2005 Page Tools Email to a friend Printer format The Federal Government came under heavy attack yesterday from doctors and the Opposition over suggestions it planned to break a key election promise by restricting access to the Medicare safety net. The Government is considering ways to stem the ballooning cost of the scheme, which was only introduced in March last year, in next month's budget. The safety net was estimated to cost $440 million over four years. So far $649 million has been allocated, and some projections suggest it could end up costing $1 billion or more. The scheme repays patients 80 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses above a threshold of $300 for low-income earners or $700 for high-income earners. Among options for reining in costs are increasing the thresholds or reducing the rebate. But yesterday the president of the Australian Medical Association, Bill Glasson, insisted the controversial scheme was good policy and should not be cut just because the Government had underestimated its cost. "It is good policy; the electorate likes it. It is targeted at people who utilise the service, that have need. Let this thing run for another 12 to 18 months," Dr Glasson said, suggesting the cost would "plateau out" somewhere around its current level. "It's very important from the point of view of providing affordability and security, particularly for young families and those with chronic disease." The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, repeatedly promised - before and after the election - that the safety net would not change, despite its growing cost. "Medicare is not a budget-limited, bureaucratically controlled program; it's a demand-driven, patient-initiated program," he said in September. He said he could "absolutely guarantee that the safety net, as the Government has put it into operation, will continue". !stupid: The acting Opposition health spokeswoman, Jan McLucas, said that if the Government made any cuts to the safety net it would amount to a "cruel hoax played on the community just to get them through the election". "The Labor Party said at the outset the safety net was unsustainable, that costs would blow out, and unfortunately we have been proved correct. "Now, whichever way the Government goes, there will be losers. If they cut the scheme, health consumers will pay. If they don't, taxpayers will pay."