Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton says too many people are getting free services under Medicare and has again warned about the unsustainability of the system.
Speaking ahead of the release of the government’s commission of audit, Mr Dutton said the government needed to show leadership now to rein in Medicare spending.
The audit is expected to propose unpopular measures to improve the health budget, such as the introduction of a $6 co-payment to see the doctor.
Medicare currently funds 265 million free services each year, Mr Dutton said on Thursday.
“If we are to have a strong and sustainable health system in to the future, that figure is not sustainable,” Mr Dutton said in a speech to the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.
“Ten years ago we were spending $8 billion on (Medicare benefits), today $19 billion and in ten years’ time more than $80 billion in 2009-10 dollars.”
Federal hospital spending had also blown out in the past decade, he said.
“Ten years ago we were funding $7.5 billion, today about $14 billion a year, and in ten years’ time the figure climbs to $36 billion,” he said.
Mr Dutton has repeatedly said those who can afford it should pay more for their healthcare, but has refused to confirm the government will introduce a GP co-payment.
During his speech Mr Dutton also spoke of “rebuilding” general practice through what he called “advanced payment models”.
This would include the greater involvement of private health insurers, he said.
The comment has renewed speculation the government would allow private insurers to fund GP care.
But Mr Dutton said the government wasn’t considering legislative changes to allow that to occur, and was instead waiting to see how a Queensland trial proceeded.
“One of the ways in which we can do that is have private insurers investing earlier in their patients, working collaboratively with their doctors,” he later told reporters.
“I think that provides not just better health outcomes, but better financial outcomes.”
However, this wouldn’t involve people opting out of Medicare, he said.