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02 Dec 2013

The AMA has called on the Commonwealth to axe the PBS authority prescription system, give doctors a single Medicare provider number, streamline Medicare payments and reform Medicare Locals as part of a review of the role and scope of Government.

In a submission to the Abbott Government’s National Commission of Audit, the AMA has recommended seven reforms that it argues would free doctors up from hundreds of hours of administrative work each year, allowing them to spend more time with patients while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Lodging the submission, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said that medical practices were being “strangled” by unnecessary rules and regulations, with many doctors spending more than nine hours a week complying with red tape.

“Doctors cannot see as many patients as they could because of the time needed to deal with mountains of paperwork or waiting on the phone for authority prescription approvals."

“This is blocking patient access to much-needed medical care and advice. The solution is simple: free up doctors’ time so they can do what they do best – care for patients.”

The Commission, chaired by Business Council of Australia President Tony Shepherd, has been directed to advise on areas of waste and duplication in the operation of Government and provision of services, and is expected to recommend swingeing cuts in many areas, particularly where responsibility is shared between several layers of government.

In its submission, the AMA highlighted long-standing doctor complaints about the PBS authority prescription system and recommended that it be scrapped.

It said doctors spent time equivalent to 25,000 patient consultations waiting for their calls to the DHS authority free call service to be answered.

The AMA said the pointlessness of the system was underlined by the fact that only 2.8 per cent of calls to the service did not result in prescription authorisation.

Another suggestion was to change the rules governing the Medicare provider number system to give doctors a single national number, rather than force them to obtain a separate number for each practice or hospital they work at.

The AMA has also recommended a simplification of the Medicare billing system to eliminate double-handling and allow the Medicare rebate for a service to be paid directly into the medical practitioner’s account, rather than through the patient’s account.

The Commission of Audit has also been urged to consider the role of Medicare Locals to ensure that they provide a genuine and useful support for general practice, rather than simply being a conduit for Government funding or a competitor with existing GP services.

The AMA has reiterated its call for improvements in Medicare chronic disease items, urging the Commission to consider streamlining current arrangements to make them far less cumbersome and complex, and has called for Centrelink and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to redouble their efforts to simplify the administrative requirements imposed on doctors.

It has also suggested that registration processes for the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record system be simplified.

Dr Hambleton said that the excessive regulatory burden on doctors needed to be slashed.

“The majority of general practices and other medical specialist practices are small to medium businesses that must meet all the usual business red tape associated with taxation, payroll and personnel management,” he said. “, they must meet red tape requirements to enable their patients to get access to funding provided through the Medicare Benefits Schedule and other Government funding.”

The Abbott Government was elected on a pledge to get rid of waste and cut red tape, and Health Minister Peter Dutton has signalled that although there would be no extra funds for health spending, he wanted to see a reallocation of spending priorities to free up more funds for frontline health services.

In line with this, at a meeting with Dr Hambleton in October, the Minister indicated that the authority prescription system was likely to come under scrutiny.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 02 Dec 2013