Young doctors take on Ley in battle for Farrer

3 minute read

The federal Health Minister is being challenged in her rural NSW electorate by two doctors-in-training


Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley is being challenged on health policy in her own backyard by two doctors-in-training standing as candidates in her rural NSW electorate of Farrer

Medical student Christian Kunde, running for the ALP, told The Medical Republic he delivered a “wake-up call” to local voters by distributing data showing that 10% of adults in Albury, the regional centre, had avoiding visiting a GP because of cost.

“I think in recent weeks we have been able to change the conversation a bit,” he said.

Mr Kunde said his campaign could take some credit for Ms Ley’s recent admission on ABC radio, that she had wanted to roll back the Medicare rebate freeze but was overruled by Treasury and Finance ministers.

“For me, that was a big win,” he said. “I have tried to indicate the local impact of the government’s health policy, particularly the MBS rebate freeze and the issues surrounding that.

“I reported … that around about one in 10 adults in Albury reported to their Primary Health Network that they haven’t seen a GP due to cost. We reported that Albury, despite what the minister’s office says, has one of the lowest bulk-billing rates in NSW.”

The 30-year-old, who wrote his honours thesis on Medicare and bulk billing, said local GPs in the electorate had been privately sending letters to patients warning that they would have to stop bulk-billing if the freeze stayed in place.

“But because people have got these letters, they know what is being spun from the minister’s office is not true to their reality, so frustration is certainly increasing, and I suppose some fear about the future of Medicare as they know it,” he said.

Greens candidate Amanda Cohn, an intern at Albury Base Hospital who has taken leave to campaign across the sprawling electorate, said people in conservative Farrer “seem quite surprised to hear about what’s going on”.

“I’m lucky enough to live in the health minister’s electorate, but because it’s seen as a safe Liberal seat, (Minister Ley) hasn’t really been called to account on policies,” said Dr Cohn, who intends to specialise in general practice.

Her campaign reinforced the message from local GPs that bulk-billing was at risk, she said.

“I think all of us spreading the same message at the same time is having an effect.”

TMR understands doctors in the electorate have preferred not to publish the letters they have written to patients.

But one, Dr Greg Gladman, has told the Albury-based Border Mail newspaper that practices were reviewing their policies following the 3 May budget decision to freeze the rebate until 2020.

It meant bulk-billing GPs would be squeezed between flat incomes and rising costs, and “people who can’t afford healthcare will be shunned,” he said.

Dr Gladman said his own practice, in nearby Wodonga, would cease routine bulk billing of certain groups of patients, such as people over the age of 65.

He said he worried that patients would delay seeking care and end up with more serious health problems.

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