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21 Sep 2015

AMA President Professor Brian Owler has questioned comments from the Health Minister about the latest Medicare data that suggested the Government is setting the scene for Health budget cuts through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Reviews, which are due to report to the Minister by the end of the year.

Professor Owler said the Health Minister is being alarmist about health expenditure.

“The Government is misleading the public by talking about the number of Medicare services per patient as if they are all separate visits to doctors, which is wrong,” Professor Owler said.

“A single visit to a doctor can result in several services being provided to the patient on the day.

“Contrary to the Minister’s view that the Medicare data paints a complex picture, it is really quite simple. Growth in health expenditure will always occur, as the population increases and ages.

“A first world country like Australia should embrace the fact that it can offer its citizens timely and affordable access to a full range of healthcare services.

“This is essential to a productive nation. Good health keeps people in jobs. And good health keeps people actively contributing to their communities, which contributes to a strong economy.

“Rather than focusing on the number of items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, the Government should be celebrating the positive health outcomes that the MBS delivers to the nation.

“Many of the items that have recently been added to the Schedule are a direct result of Government policies.

“The MBS should and must reflect modern medical practice.

“The medical profession is participating in the MBS Reviews that the Minister has commissioned.

“The profession will take the lead in identifying waste and inefficiency in the healthcare system.”

Professor Owler said that it was the AMA’s understanding that the MBS Reviews were not set up as a Budget cost-cutting exercise, but the Minister’s recent media release contains language that suggests otherwise.

“By using terms such as ‘Medicare usage had continued to skyrocket’ and ‘the cupboard needed a good clean’, the Minister has clearly indicated that the ‘blueprint’ for the MBS Reviews will inevitably have a focus on the budget bottom line rather than a funding mechanism for supporting good health care,” Professor Owler said.

“The Australian public would prefer the Government to set the strategic vision and direction for Australia’s healthcare system, which in turn will guide the MBS Reviews.”

Professor Owler said it is wrong for the Government to claim that health funding is out of control.

“Medicare expenditure increased by 5.6 per cent in 2014-15. Over the last seven years, this is the second lowest annual increase in Medicare expenditure. Last year (2013-14), was the lowest, at 3 per cent.

“The Government’s Commission of Audit report stated that Medicare expenditure was expected to grow by 7.1 per cent per year until 2023-24, and continue growing. Yet the last two years have been well under that projection.

“The Commonwealth Government’s total health expenditure is reducing as a percentage of the total Budget. In the 2014-15 Budget, health was 16.13 per cent of the total, down from 18.09 per cent in 2006-07. 

“It reduced further in the 2015-16 Budget, representing only 15.97 per cent of the total Commonwealth Budget.

“The Reform of the Federation White Paper estimates ‘that 10 per cent of patients account for around 45 per cent of MBS expenditure’.

“This shows that the MBS is working as intended.”

John Flannery

Published: 21 Sep 2015