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17 Mar 2017

The AMA brought together 75 representatives from Medical Colleges, Associations and Societies on March 9 to update them on Government reviews into Private Health and the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

The doctors and other representatives met at AMA House in Canberra and represented all a full range of specialty groups.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon thanked the doctors for taking time out of their own practices on behalf of their respective organisations, stressing it was important for the profession to come together regularly as the reviews progress.

“To begin, I think we should take stock of what is happening in the general environment,” Dr Gannon said.

“The Government has undertaken a large task to review the health system. There is currently a lot of work being undertaken in this area with reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, Prostheses List, and the Private Health sector.

“The AMA supports the need to review the health system, to provide a mechanism to refresh the current arrangements and also support innovation, while understanding the need to ensure the health system is sustainable.

“But we also believe that if savings, not quality care, are the driving motivator for change, there can be the potential to negatively affect the health and wellbeing of Australian families.

 “Health must be seen as an investment, not a cost or a Budget saving.

“We agree that there are greater efficiencies to be made in the health system and in the health budget, but any changes must be undertaken with meaningful consultation with the medical profession.

“And with close consideration of any impact on patients, especially the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, working families with young children, and the chronically ill.”

Chair of the Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee, Dr Jeff Harmer AO, told the gathering that the medical profession should take a leadership role in helping to control the out-of-pocket expenses, which are a growing concern to private health insurance customers.

He said private health coverage was continuing to drop, raising concerns within Government that long term viability is being impacted. The AMA has been advocating for a long time that the private health insurance product was too complicated and the value evaporates as patients find out that, at their time of need, their insurance does not cover services that they thought were covered.  The consumer survey found that not paying benefits was of great concern to consumers. 

“Consumers are very concerned that private health insurance does not offer value for money,” Dr Harmer said.

 “There is an opportunity for the profession to adopt a leadership role in this area..

Concerns raised from the floor centred on the profits of the insurers, the imbalance of the power relationship and the view that some insurers were trying to move towards a system of ‘managed care’.

“They (private insurers) do have a lot of power. No doubt about that,” Dr Harmer responded to one query.

“The bigger the insurer and the smaller the hospital, the greater the imbalance.”

Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review chair, Professor Bruce Robinson, said progress had been slow to date, not least because of a change in Health Minister.

“But neither former Minister Sussan Ley nor Minister Greg Hunt have expressed to me in any way shape or form that this process is about saving money,” Prof Robinson said.

Prof Robinson fielded a number of questions from the group regarding concerns with the review process, Government’s handling of recommendations and make-up of the clinical committees.

The reviews have been off to a slow start, with Prof Robinson commenting the review was still evolving and processes open to change to ensure the best outcomes are achieved for the system overall.

Discussion from the floor covered a full range of issues over the course of an hour. The medical profession expressed concern with how some of the reviews had operated to date, and called for greater consultation with profession and the Colleges, Associations and Societies of the detail.

Concerns were also raised about how the review will deal with conflicting recommendations, the need to widen the membership of some of the committees, to recognise the history behind some of the current items, as well as the current and separate deliberations being held by the Department on MBS changes and the proposed abolition of the Medicare Claims Review Panel.

Chris Johnson

Published: 17 Mar 2017