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Sick budget

Friday, 6th May, 2016

By Darrin Manuel

Doctors have predicted GP clinics and their patients will be left shortchanged and in worse health if the government pushes ahead with healthcare cuts in the latest budget.

Treasurer Scott Morrison this week announced the freeze on Medicare rebates (bulk billing) would continue until 2019-2020 under the budget, saving the government around $925 million.

The rebate GP clinics receive from the government for bulk-billing patients has remained frozen since 2014, however operating costs for general practices have continued to rise in areas such as wages and equipment.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) have previously branded the freeze as a “co-payment by stealth”, as it forces clinics to either absorb the increased cost themselves, or recoup the money by charging patients for GP visits.

RACGP president Dr Frank Jones this week branded the government’s latest move to extend the rebate freeze as “illogical”, and said it would only heap further financial pressure on the health industry and the public.

“Extending the freeze until 2019-20 is calamitous... it may leave general practices unviable - which is just an extraordinary outcome,” he said.

“Reversing the freeze on the indexation of the MBS is absolutely essential to maintain high quality healthcare services.

“The RACGP will now step up its campaign for reversal of the freeze, lobbying all parties, informing our patients of our disappointment, and advising them as to how it will affect them as we head into a federal election.”

Local GP Dr Ramu Rachiappan has been a vocal advocate to have the rebate freeze abolished, or at the very least, removed in isolated areas such as the Far West.

He too was left dismayed by the budget and predicted country GPs would be forced to shed jobs and services.

He said in some instances the government’s savings by extending the freeze would result in increased costs for patients when they visit a GP.

“This budget decision shows a complete disregard for long term health planning for the community,” he said.

“Damage from such projected ‘savings’ is likely to reverberate for decades to come, through poor health outcomes for those who are most vulnerable - the aged, young and people on low incomes.

“In Broken Hill, the large majority of our town are people who fit into these categories.”

He said locals had been let down by both Labor and the Coalition on the issue of healthcare in recent years.

“The sad truth is both major parties that have governed Australia are going down this same pathway in their effort to save money.

“I don’t think it matters which major party is in government as far as this issue is concerned to those of us who live here.

“I am hopeful that the Broken Hill public will voice their opinion louder to make their choices known as to what level of health care we want out of our governments, and not what the government believes is good medicine for us to swallow regardless of our needs.”

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