Labor’s rural and regional health spokesperson, Stephen Jones, and candidate for Page, Janelle Saffin, attended the Save Our Medicare rally in Grafton on Saturday. In a media release, Mr Jones said that the federal budget contained “nasty surprises for patients in rural and regional Australia”. “Scott Morrison announced that the Medicare rebate freeze will be extended to 2020,” he said. “Research prepared by the University of New South Wales shows that GPs will need to slug their patients with a $14 GP tax to make up for losses caused by these changes. “This latest assault on Medicare will have a particularly harsh impact on healthcare in places like Grafton. “In rural and regional Australia many GP practices already operate on tight margins and struggle to make ends meet.” The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has condemned the extension of the Medicare freeze. The association’s president, Professor Brian Owler, said in a media release that “the 2016-17 health budget continues the government’s stranglehold on Australia’s Medicare system by taking $1 billion out of the pockets of Australian patients and household budgets”. “The poorest, the sickest and the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit,” he said. Janelle Saffin said the government wants to implement a user-pays system for Medicare. “Once we could have relied on our Medicare card, but soon we’ll be relying on our credit card and this has to end,” she said. “The cuts to bulk billing incentives for blood tests and pathology mean that families in Page will avoid getting tests that could save their life.” Ms Saffin attacked the government’s cuts to the Child Dental Benefits Scheme, too, “which helped one million kids access dental care – a decision that will affect over 12,000 families in Page”. “Right now in New South Wales 116,000 people are waiting to get access to the public dental scheme and this list is set to grow and grow,” Ms Saffin said. The scheme was due to close at the end of this financial year, subject to the passage of legislation.