Fee fears for Coalition policy


Labor best to look after health system, AMA says as doctors fear massive fee rise

The ALP has won the support of the AMA for its promises to remove the budgeted PBS price increase and reintroduce Medicare indexation.

The government’s decision to further extend (to at least 2020) the ongoing freeze on MBS rebates has angered doctors’ groups.

Interest groups across the health sector have also been critical of the 2014 Budget measure (blocked in the Senate) to hike up PBS prices, a policy that Health Minister Sussan Ley recently said was still on the table.

The AMA has joined the Pharmacy Guild of Australian and PSA in welcoming Labor’s commitment to removing the PBS measure.

“Well I think that’s very pleasing news,” said AMA President Professor Brian Owler this week.

“What we’ve been seeing is prices being put in at all levels, so we’ve had the visits to the GP, we’ve had pathology, we’ve had diagnostic imaging, and then there’s prescriptions as well. And at the end of the day, this is deterring those that can least afford it from going and filling their prescription,” he said.

“So Labor’s pledge is very welcome, and I think patients should be very pleased about that, particularly those with complex and chronic illnesses”.

Professor Owler (pictured) said patients would be “clearly better off under Labor’s plan”.

“I mean there’s a $38 payment that exists now if you’re a non-concession payment, so they wanted to add another $5 on top of that. If you’re a concession card holder, it’s $6.20.

Under the Coalition’s plan they’d like to increase that to $7. Now it doesn’t sound like very much, but if you’re filling multiple prescriptions and you’re also then wearing costs for seeing the GP, paying for X-rays and other tests, those are the patients that really suffer with these types of policies”.

He also backed the ALP plan to return indexation to the MBS rebate schedule after its current three year freeze, which the coalition have vowed to extend.

Professor Owler denied that the AMA campaign was solely driven by GPs hip pocket concerns, rather he said “this is actually about the patients and their rebate at the end of the day. Because the Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates are the patients’ rebates”.

Practices would transition away from bulk-billing, he said, driven by rising costs and the rebate freeze, and the costs would be substantial to patients.

“It’s just a practical economic reality. As your costs go up for staff, the lease on your practice – which is usually automatically indexed anyway – and all of your other overheads go up, the only way that you can maintain the viability of the practice is to start to transition to a practice that charges patients a fee,” he said.

“Now as soon as you charge a patient a fee, and you go away from bulk-billing, you first of all lose the bulk-billing incentive. So, at a minimum, they’ve got to make up more than $6, in regional areas more than $9.

And so most practices won’t be charging six or nine dollars, they’ll be charging more like $20 every time they see a patient, on top of the rebate. And so that’s what the future holds”.

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