Patients hurt by Medicare rebate freeze: AMA

doctor makes "stop" gesture with hand - ama

The Australian Medical Association is using Family Doctor Week to highlight the “devastating” effect on patients from the freeze on Medicare patient rebates.

It is warning of a sharp rise in the number of GP visits where patients face out-of-pocket costs unless the Federal Government lifts the freeze.

Earlier this year, just before the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, the AMA criticised the Government’s decision to increase funding to community pharmacy, saying it had its priorities wrong.

“Patients have been hit with a Medicare rebate freeze until 2018,” AMA vice President Stephen Parnis said at the time, “But the pharmacy sector gets a huge funding boost with no questions asked.”

Now, AMA President Professor Brian Owler says about 82% of GP visits are currently bulk billed, but that would become increasingly difficult for doctors to sustain unless the rebate freeze is lifted.

“There has been no increase to Medicare patient rebates for consultations and operations since 2012, and GP services were last indexed on 1 July 2014,” says Prof Owler. “The Government plans to keep them frozen until mid-2018.

“While Medicare rebates remain on hold, underlying inflation and wages are growing at 2.35% a year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports hospital and medical costs increased by 6.5% in a year.

“Family doctors treat 18.5 million patients each year, providing a vital service to help keep people healthy and out of expensive hospitals care.”

Prof Owler says GPs work hard to provide quality affordable patient care, but inadequate indexation is making it harder to maintain the viability of practices.

“Medical practices cannot continue to absorb the ever-increasing costs of running a small business and remain viable,” he says.

“The costs of providing general practice services – including wages for practice staff, rent, electricity, computers, continuing professional development, practice accreditation and professional insurance – are constantly rising.

“The Government must recognise that the cost of providing medical services increases each year, as practice costs increase, and that the single fee charged by the doctor has to cover practice costs.

“Patients will face increasing out-of-pocket costs as bulk billing declines. The Medicare rebate freeze is a GP co-payment by stealth.”

Professor Owler says the AMA is campaigning hard to convince the Government to lift the Medicare rebate freeze as early as possible.

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