ALL OR NONE: There's nothing quite like the issue of Medicare when it comes to firing up your base.
ALL OR NONE: There's nothing quite like the issue of Medicare when it comes to firing up your base. Clair Morton

OPINION: Medicare fight rests on shaky ground

THERE'S nothing quite like Medicare to get the blood rushing in Australian politics.

This week's news that one of the last GPs to offer fully bulk-billed services in Gladstone had shifted to mixed billing restarted the debate over the Medicare rebate - and the refrain from both major parties sounded pretty familiar.

Both tried to put the blame squarely at the other's feet, with Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pointing to "Turnbull's Medicare freeze" and promising to end the policy should he become Prime Minister.

This is despite the fact the freeze on GP rebates is already set to be lifted in July - well before Mr Shorten will get the chance (barring the discovery of any more secretly-British parliamentarians hiding in the ranks).

Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd soon fired back, by pointing the blame at - you guessed it - "the Labor freeze" which was in the ALP's forward estimates when the Coalition came to office in 2013.

That was despite the fact it was introduced as a temporary measure that the Coalition later embraced, implementing it for four years and at one point looking to extend it until 2020.

Here's the truth: both major parties have at different times supported the idea of freezing Medicare rebates.

That's because it's a savings measure, and like any savings measure there'll be a time when it makes sense and a time when it won't.

If the nation was down to its last cent (it's not) it might make sense to freeze the rebate until things improved.

If we were flush with cash (we're not) it might make sense to boost the rebate well beyond inflation and make sure no one ever pays another cent.


DOCTOR DOCTOR: Find your nearest medical centre on the Fraser Coast.
DOCTOR DOCTOR: The Medicare rebate for regular GP visits will be re-indexed to inflation from July. Contributed

This isn't an attempt to argue from the "sensible centre" - in fact I hold strong views about turning to bulk billing patients to make up budget shortfalls when we see some of the other ways our money is being spent.

But ideological differences mean some people will disagree - and that's when we have a debate about our priorities.

Right now both parties are in agreement the rebate freeze should be scrapped.

So why do they keep trying to pin it on each other?

Because sometimes it's easier to fight the opponent you wish you had, rather than the actual person standing opposite.

Andrew Thorpe is a journalist at The Observer.