Doctors Warn On Slash to Medicare Rebate
15 January 2015 at 11:23 am
The Australian Medical Association has urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to personally intervene and overturn Federal Government plans to slash the Medicare rebate for GP consultations lasting less than 10 minutes.
AMA President, Associate Professor Brian Owler said as Labor joined the Greens and several cross-bench senators in vowing to oppose the measure, the Prime Minister should immediately bring an end to the fear and uncertainty the Government has caused for doctors and patients around the country and announce that the $20 Medicare rebate cut for Level B GP consultations, due to come into effect next Monday, had been abandoned.
Professor Owler said there would be no let-up in the pressure on the Government to reverse course, revealing he had personally written to the Prime Minister asking him to intervene.
“No issue in recent memory has provoked outrage among doctors like this rebate cut,” Professor Owler said.
“The change, which was always about the Budget bottom line rather than health policy, means patients face the likelihood of more out-of-pocket expenses.”
Under the measure, flagged two weeks before Christmas, the Medicare rebate for GP Level B consultations lasting less than 10 minutes will be cut from $37.05 to $16.95 – a $20.10 reduction. The change is due to come into effect on 19 January.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Professor Owler said the change had been introduced without consultation and would hurt both patients and family doctors.
“Your Government has imposed this significantly detrimental measure on general practice without consultation, with only five weeks notice, and during a period when they are operating with minimum staff,” the AMA President said in his letter to Abbott.
“You have left it to general practitioners to explain your ‘savings’ measure to the Australian people.”
The change was introduced by regulation, which means it can be disallowed by the Senate, but only after Parliament resumes on 9 February.
It appears increasingly likely that this will be the case, now that Labor, the Greens and at least four cross-bench senators have indicated they will vote to have the regulation change overturned.
But Professor Owler said any disallowance motion could take weeks or months to come into effect, and in the meantime patients and doctors would be hit with higher charges and costs unless the Government bowed to common sense and undid the change before next Monday.
“It was never a good idea, and Mr Abbott should take this opportunity to ditch it and instead consult with the medical profession on how to support quality primary health care,” he said.
“The AMA has always argued that the focus needs to be on rewarding quality care.”
Even if the Government abandons the rebate cut for shorter consultations, the AMA President warned that other changes, including a $5 cut to Medicare rebates for general patients from 1 July and a freeze on Medicare rebate indexation through to mid-2018, amounted to an attack on general practice that would inevitably lead to increased out-of-pocket expenses for patients and undermine health care.
He said the policies were likely to lead to higher health costs in the long-term, as patients deterred by increased expenses put off seeing their doctor.
“Eventually, as their health deteriorates, they will need more intensive and expensive treatment, possibly even hospitalisation,” he said.
“Primary health care is provided primarily by practitioners who practice in a small business setting.
“These practices will not be able to absorb the cuts your Government has made to the Medicare rebate. Costs will be passed on to patients. Some will be able to make these payments but many will not. These costs may deter many patients from seeking early treatment.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott however has rejected claims his new GP fee will swamp emergency departments.
The Prime Minister told Melbourne Radio station 3AW that doctors should be welcoming the changes because they will see shorter visits funded at a lower rate and longer visits funded at a higher rate.
"Exactly how much patients are charged is always a question for the doctors but these government changes are designed to try to ensure that doctors spend a reasonable amount of time with their patients," Abbott said.