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Treasurer Joe Hockey has raised the prospect of people living until 150 to explain why Australians should accept cuts to government benefits and pay a greater share of their health costs.
Mr Hockey also refused to deny reports that he and former health minister Peter Dutton opposed a $20 cut to Medicare rebates for short consultations in a meeting of cabinet’s powerful Expenditure Review Committee. The government abandoned the planned cut, which was due to take effect on Monday, after a revolt by doctors and Senate crossbenchers.
“I’m not going to engage in a discussion on gossip,” Mr Hockey said on Monday in an interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell when asked about the leak.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott reportedly insisted on the rebate cut – aimed to save money and discourage “six minute medicine” – despite the senior ministers’ protests.
Mr Hockey said he supported the decision to abandon the $20 rebate cut, but that the cost of Medicare needed to be kept under control.
The Treasurer said his five-year old son had broken his foot over the Christmas break. Although his son attended multiple consultations and X-rays, Mr Hockey only had to contribute $40 to pay for a waterproof cast.
“That is wrong,” Mr Hockey said, noting he is a high income earner who could afford to contribute more.
The government still plans to introduce a $5 optional co-payment for GP visits.
“There’s great news on the horizon for Australia,” Mr Hockey said. “The fact we are living longer is great news. It’s kind of remarkable that somewhere in the world today, it’s highly probable that a child is being born that is going to live to 150. That’s a long time.
“The question is how we live with dignity and ensure we have a good quality of life the whole way through. This is the conversation we are going to have with Australia over the next few months.”
The government will release the latest Intergenerational Report early this year, which is expected to show that the ageing population will make it difficult for the government to pay for the services Australians have come to expect.
Some researchers have said that drugs that can slow the ageing process are likely to become available within 10 years, raising the prospect of people eventually living to 150 or more.
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