INVOLVED: Dr Ewen McPhee wants to see better heath services in rural areas.
INVOLVED: Dr Ewen McPhee wants to see better heath services in rural areas. Kaitlyn Gutzke

Cities ahead by $2 billion in health funding

PEOPLE living outside city areas are missing out on $2 billion of government-funded health services every year.

The National Rural Health Alliance says the multi-billion dollar gap exists because people living outside cities do not have the services in their areas.

The alliance's chief executive Kim Webber said the $2 billion deficit included Medicare-funded services, pharmaceuticals and aged care.

She also said the figure also took into account an overspend in hospital funding in areas outside cities.

"Rural people over-utilise hospital services," she said. "It's because we don't access the early services, so we get sicker.

"So by the time we see someone, we're really sick and need to go to hospital."

She said people were missing out on government-funded health services in regional, rural and remote areas because the services were not there.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr Ewen McPhee said the difference between accessing services in city areas and outside metropolitan areas was grossly underestimated.

"And we underestimate how much it costs people to find time and to travel the distances they have to travel to access care," he said.

Dr McPhee said there was a lack of consideration for rural and remote people who had to travel to access health services.

The Department of Health was unable to confirm the $2 billion deficit figure.

A spokesman for the Coalition government said it was not surprising that there were more Medicare services in city areas, given more people lived in cities. He also said the Medicare bulk billing rate was higher in areas outside cities and that the number of full-time GPs outside of metro areas had grown.

The spokesman said the Coalition had redirected $50 million to increase pay for doctors working outside capital cities and had invested $98 million towards training doctors in rural areas.

Labor spokesman for rural and regional health Stephen Jones said it was not surprising there was a $2 billion gap in funded services for people living outside cities.

Mr Jones said the biggest threat to rural practices was the freezing of the Medicare rebate and that Labor would unfreeze the Medicare rebate to ensure GPs would not be forced to hit patients with more fees.

Dr McPhee said throwing money at the problem would not solve the issue.

He said local governments needed to be more involved in health. At a federal level, he said a united health plan needed to be developed, and to have a commissioner.

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