Originally published in the Ararat Advocate on 15 December 2023

We all know that it can be challenging to get an appointment to see a doctor – particularly in rural and regional Australia.

In the previous parliament, Federal Labor established a Senate inquiry to examine the GP shortage – including the Coalition’s Medicare rebate freeze – and to make sure everyone has access to quality health care regardless of where they live.

Since the election last year, the Albanese Government has implemented several policies to make our health system more affordable and accessible.

We implemented a significant cut to the maximum cost of a prescription on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, reducing it from $42.50 to $30.

We have given doctors the option to provide 60-day prescriptions, and more than 600,000 of these scripts have already been issued.

The Albanese Government has also tripled the incentive for doctors to bulk bill pensioners, concession cardholders and children under 16, which has resulted in an increased availability of bulk billing in every state and territory.

Overall, Australians are on track to save more than $250 million on medicines by the end of the year.

But we know that the availability of doctors is still a significant issue.

That’s why earlier this month we announced an investment of $90 million in six new medical school programs in rural communities.

The investment will build medical classrooms, equipment and facilities, as well as provide up to 80 new medical Commonwealth Supported Places. These placements will be matched by universities that must redirect an equivalent number of their existing placements to the six new rural programs.

Evidence shows that doctors who train in rural and regional Australia are more likely to stay and practise in the regions after they graduate, and the investment will also bring economic and social benefits to regional Australia through the increased number of staff and students living and working locally.

Because of this policy, an extra 30 medical students will begin end-to-end medical training in Ararat and Warrnambool.

When Federal Labor came to government, nine years of cuts and neglect to Medicare meant it had never been harder or more expensive to see a doctor, particularly for people in rural and regional Victoria.

But through our policies to provide cheaper medicines, record funding for bulk billing, and investment in medical training in rural communities, the Albanese Government is restoring the affordability and accessibility of our health system.