Illawarra to fight for Medicare

Ready to battle for healthcare: South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, retired nurse Helen Smith, Illawarra Forum's Natalie Mancilla, Cunningham MP Sharon Bird and Throsby MP Stephen Jones outside the Wollongong Medicare offices. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Ready to battle for healthcare: South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, retired nurse Helen Smith, Illawarra Forum's Natalie Mancilla, Cunningham MP Sharon Bird and Throsby MP Stephen Jones outside the Wollongong Medicare offices. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Hundreds of Illawarra residents are expected to attend a Save Medicare rally in Wollongong's Civic Plaza on Saturday.

Federal Labor MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones have organised the midday rally amid community concerns over federal budget cuts to healthcare.

"Both our offices have been inundated with people expressing anger and concerns about the budget across the board but specifically, its impact on health," Ms Bird said.

"So I think it's important to get together and have a rally so people can hear about what the implications of the budget are, and how we're [Labor] proposing to fight them."

NSW Premier Mike Baird has indicated about 300 hospital beds will have to close across the state from July 1 this year as a result of federal budget cuts to public hospital funding.

Meantime, the cost of prescription medicines will rise and it will cost at least $7 to visit the doctor under measures announced in this month's budget.

Labor has vowed to block the Medicare co-payment, which would otherwise come into effect from July 1, 2015. However, some medical centres have already had to allay concerns, including Dapto Medical Centre, which this week sent out a text message to customers confirming that bulk billing was still available.

"The Australian population is canny and can sniff out the federal government's real intentions," Ms Bird said. "It's not about fixing budget problems - the co-payments are set to fund new medical research anyway - it's an attempt to dismantle the universality of Medicare."

Mr Jones said the $7 co-payment was the "thin edge of the wedge".

"People understand the $7 GP tax means the end to bulk billing, as doctors will now be penalised for bulk billing," he said.

"Where will it stop? The recent Commission of Audit recommended a $15 fee to visit the doctor, and that's the government's real target."

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris urged people to attend Saturday's rally, to send a strong message to the Abbott government.

"The issue is quite clear - we will either have a universal healthcare system which says everyone in this country regardless of wealth is entitled to healthcare, or we won't," he said.

"The fact is that if this co-payment is allowed to pass, it would be the beginning of the end of Medicare and that would be a tragedy for all Australians.

"We need to get behind our representatives who have pledged to block the co-payment to send the message that it's not just politicians who are concerned, but the people of Wollongong."

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