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Rebate cuts will sting

Thursday, 15th January, 2015

Local doctor Andrew Crossman says cuts to the Medicare rebate for short GP visits will hurt both patients and doctors when they are introduced from Monday. Local doctor Andrew Crossman says cuts to the Medicare rebate for short GP visits will hurt both patients and doctors when they are introduced from Monday.

By Erica Visser

Local patients could face a long wait or pay a $20 fee to see their doctor from next week when changes to the Medicare rebate come into effect - but they might not last for long.

On Monday, federal government changes to the rebate meant that a GP visit of less than 10 minutes will be cut from $37.05 to $16.95.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned that many doctors will pass the $20 difference onto patients whilst the Opposition has labelled the move as a “sneak attack” and vowed to reverse it.

But a spokesman for Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said the government’s goal to combat “six minute medicine”, where doctors rush patients through their doors to maximise profits, will help local patients.

“Under current rules, a GP can access Medicare rebates for up to 20 minutes, even if their patient is in and out the door in six minutes,” a statement to the BDT read.

“These changes more accurately reflect the time a doctor spends with their patient and encourage longer GP consultations for better health outcomes, not six minute medicine. This is particularly true in the case of chronic and complex medical issues.”

Local doctor Andrew Crossman yesterday said the reforms hadn’t been well thought out.

“It’s all well and good to reduce six minute medicine and increase appointment time to 10 minutes but when we have an undersupply of doctors in Broken Hill unfortunately the pressures are there for us and the patient demand is there,” he said.

Dr Crossman, who currently bulk bills 90 per cent of patients, agreed that the changes could see the end of the practice.

“It will actually affect our ability to bulk bill. Say I saw six patients in an hour, I’d lose $120.

“That’s a significant hit to the bottom line of the practice. The bottom line supplies nursing staff, computers, office supplies.

“I don’t think they’ve thought it through very well.”

Meanwhile the Greens and Labor yesterday said they hoped to disallow the “sneaky” changes when the Senate resumes next month. 

The motion would need four more votes to pass and already has support from independent senators Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xenophon. 

Senator Xenophon says overturning the regulation could cause some chaos, but not as much as not disallowing it would create in the public hospital system and the way medicine is practised.

AMA president Brian Owler said the rebate cut had nothing to do with improving the quality of care or tackling six-minute medicine.

“It is about grabbing $1.3 billion from patients and family doctors to improve the budget,” Associate Professor Owler said in a statement.

Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC 24 he believed Ms Ley could negotiate Senate support.

But Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm was a rare voice backing the government on Wednesday.

Senator Leyonhjelm says he doesn’t believe doctors will pass on the cost.

“I’m not influenced by the AMA - it’s just basically a union for doctors,” he told AAP by phone from India, where he is on holiday.

“Their argument is that they will make less money, therefore they will have to charge their patients.

“Well, that was the government’s intention and I don’t see any problem with that. The objective is to get over this idea that health care can be free.”

A further $5 cut to GP rebates would come in from July 1, on top of a near-six-year freeze on Medicare rebate indexation.

-BDT/AAP

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