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FURTHER official interest rate rises could choke off consumer spending and grind the economy to a halt, economists warn.

Herston Economics chief economist Clifford Bennett says if the Reserve Bank raises the cash rate to five per cent by year’s end, the economy would “grind to a standstill”.

The current cash rate is 4.25 per cent, after the RBA lifted the rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Tuesday in an effort to further rein in expansionary pressures.

It was the fifth monthly interest rate rise by the central bank since October last year.

“If the cash rate gets to 5 per cent … the domestic economy will grind to a standstill,” Mr Bennett said.

“We’re seeing in the Sydney press examples of them having to choose between buying groceries and paying their electricity bill and the added burden from the RBA is completely unwarranted, unnecessary and unwanted.”

RBA governor Glenn Stevens said it was appropriate to raise the cash rate towards its long-run average given that “the risk of serious economic contraction

Most economists say the average long-run cash rate is around 5 per cent.

Nomura Australia economist Stephen Roberts said rising interest rates meant consumers were paying a greater proportion of their income in servicing debt.

Data compiled by the central bank showed that when the cash rate was 3.75 per cent at the and of the December quarter of 2009, the average household was paying more than 10 per cent of its income, minus taxes and some other regular payments, on interest payments.

When the cash rate topped 18 per cent in December 1989, the average household was spending just under nine per cent of its income on interest payments.

The figures also show that in December quarter of 1989, household debt was slightly less than half household yearly income.

Twenty years later it was equal to one and a half times an average household’s yearly income.

“That data is from fourth quarter (2009) and you have to remember we’ve had two more interest rate rises already,” Mr Roberts said.

He said a lower interest rate of 3.75 per cent to 4 per cent would be more appropriate given the current difference between the cash rate and the interest rates of major lenders.

Official economic data now points to a slowing economy, with building approvals, employment and retail sales data for March all coming in under market expectations.

Mr Bennett said the data suggested Australia’s economic performance post the global financial crisis was weaker than first thought.

“When you look at the domestic economy, there are patchy elements,” he said.

“There are storm clouds on the horizon.”

Source  :  www.news.com.au

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Fertility doctors are worried they will be under pressure to implant multiple embryos into women who cannot afford ongoing treatment due to new financial safety net caps, a leading IVF specialist says

Having two embryos implanted into the uterus instead of one raises a woman’s chance of having a multiple birth, says IVF Australia chairman Professor Michael Chapman.

As part of Medicare Safety Net restrictions unveiled in Tuesday’s budget, payments for IVF will be capped at different rates for each stage of treatment once a person reaches the safety net threshold for out-of-pocket medical expenses, which is $1,111.60, or $555.70 for those on low incomes.
This could hit women with an extra $1,500 to $2,000 of out-of-pocket costs per IVF cycle.

There are also caps on safety net payments in other areas including obstetrics, varicose vein and cataract surgery.                                                        embryo

Under the changes, pregnant women who choose to see a private obstetrician will be out of pocket by $550 unless doctors lower their fees.

“That is why the government is urging women to question their doctors about their fees,” Health Minister Nicola Roxon said.

An average of $4.5 million of taxpayers’ money is paid to the top 10 per cent of IVF specialists each year.

But Prof Chapman said the government, which says it wants to crack down on specialists who charge exorbitant fees, was using the figures for political gain.

“For every doctor that gets money, there are 10 staff members, the scientists, counsellors and nurses, they get funded through the rebate,” he told AAP.

Prof Chapman said he accepted there had been a 40 per cent rise in IVF fees over the past five years but said that it was in line with general medical inflation.

Current Medicare rebates, which work out to about $4,200 per child, go towards employing about 2,000 people in private IVF clinics nationally and investing in research and facilities, Prof Chapman said.

He estimated out-of-pocket costs for patients would rise from $1,600 to between $3,000 and $3,500 when the safety net caps come into effect on July 1, 2010.

It can often take more than one IVF cycle for a woman to fall pregnant.

“Certainly, patients are going to be more out of pocket for IVF than they have been in the past,” Prof Chapman said.

He warned doctors would be under pressure to implant more than one embryo per cycle into women as a result of safety net restrictions, increasing the chance of multiple births.

“Over the last five years in Australia the twin rate has dropped dramatically because we have been able to put one embryo back,” he said.

“But if patients think they won’t be able to afford the next cycle they will put a lot of pressure on the doctor to put two embryos back.”

Ms Roxon said her department would work with medical professionals to restructure the system to better reflect stages in a treatment cycle.
www.sbs.com.au

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