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30 Aug 2018

Figures showing that half of all Australians are routinely left with out of pocket expenses for Medicare services show the need for proper indexation of Medicare rebates, the AMA says.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) last month released its Patients’ out-of-pocket spending on Medicare services, showing that in 2016-17, 10.9 million patients paid something from their own pockets toward their non-hospital services.

Health Minister Greg Hunt tried to counter the figures, pointing to a record bulk billing rate of 86.1 per cent.

But AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said that years of frozen Medicare rebates have taken their toll on the cost of providing health care.

“There is no doubt in our mind that obviously, the first and foremost thing the Government should do is actually have a Medicare rebate that reflects the cost of providing that care,” Dr Bartone told reporters in Parliament House.

“The rebate, at the moment, bears no comparison to the cost of providing that care. It is woefully inadequate.”

The bulk billing figures do not paint the full picture, he said, as only around two-thirds of patients have all their visits to a GP bulk billed.

The last Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2018 showed that Australian Government total expenditure on GPs services per person grew by just 80 cents between 2015-16 and 2016-17 - from $370.60 to $371.40.

“The fact that the AIHW report shows the median out of pocket cost was $142 per person, despite the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) being frozen for five years, shows that doctors – be they GPs, other specialists, pathologists, or radiologists – try to limit out of pocket costs,” Dr Bartone said.

“When it comes to specialist treatment under private health insurance, Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) figures show that more than 88 per cent of all procedures are performed with no out of pocket costs to patients, and a further 7 per cent are performed with an up-front gap of less than $500.

“While the current Government has commenced a slow thaw on indexation, it has not undone the damage of several years of freezing Medicare rebates that commenced in the 2013/14 Budget under Labor and was continued until recently by the Coalition.

“And we know that, for the most part, diagnostic imaging and pathology rebates will remain frozen, as they have for the past few decades.”

Dr Bartone predicted that health would continue to be a major vote changer at the impending federal election, due by May 2019.

“The Federal AMA is already putting together its health policy manifesto, and expects to work constructively with the major parties on policies that will ensure a sustainable, properly funded, and affordable health system for all Australians,” he said.



Published: 30 Aug 2018