The chaos and costs created by the Abbott Government’s decision to shut down Medicare Locals has today been exposed at Canberra hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Health.
Despite Tony Abbott’s cast iron election promise at the Rooty Hill People’s debate that “we are not shutting any Medicare Locals”, the Abbott Government is in fact shutting all 61 on 30 June next year.
Medicare Locals are being replaced with a smaller number of Primary Health Networks, but just nine months out, no details about their number or boundaries exists, making it impossible for anyone to even tender to operate them.
Chief Executives from a number of Medicare Locals today told of the confusion and chaos caused by the Abbott Government’s bungled handling of this process.
With staff unsure if they have a job, operators unsure if they have a new contract and funding already being cut, Medicare Locals are struggling to retain staff and carry out their work.
Murrumbidgee Medicare Local CEO Nancye Piercy told the inquiry "we are already losing valuable staff" while Bayside Medicare Local CEO Dr Elizabeth Deveny declared “for our practitioners … for our staff, this is a time of great uncertainty.”
The inquiry also heard disturbing evidence about the cost to the health Budget of winding up Medicare Locals, and rebadging them as stripped down Primary Health Networks.
Elizabeth Deveny put the cost of winding up Bayside Medicare Local at $800,000 while Tasmania Medicare Local CEO Phil Edmondson put the cost of winding up his one operation alone at $3 million.
Health Department officials rejected evidence from Labor Senator Doug Cameron the process could cost $240 million but refused to give their own figure, insisting it was part of Budget deliberations.
However, they did confirm that money would be cut from other areas of health "across the rest of the department" to fund the Medicare Local wind up.
They also admitted that the replacement Primary Health Networks would provide a lesser service, telling the inquiry "they won’t do all the things Medicare Locals do".
Medicare Locals were established by Labor to keep people well and out of hospital, and did a great job filling in the gaps in the health system.
Today’s hearing has shown the closure of Medicare Locals is further evidence of the Abbott Government’s obsession with putting ideology ahead of decent health care.