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Restore the rebate cut

30 Sep 2014

The AMA was the first to attack the Government’s proposed GP co-payment model when it was announced on Budget night back in May.

Since then, the co-payment proposal has dominated the health policy debate in this country.

The Government’s co-payment model deserves all the criticism it is getting, but unfortunately it is taking the focus off other Budget decisions that are just as bad, if not worse.

The AMA has been equally opposed to the Government’s policy to cut $5 from the Medicare patient rebate.

The Government’s stated reasons for this cut are confusing and disingenuous.

On the one hand, it claims that health expenditure is out of control. Wrong.

On the other, it says that it needs to take money from sick people today to pay for medical research sometime in the next 20 years. Illogical and unfair. While the Medical Research Future Fund is a worthy objective, it should not be built on funds that are stripped from vital primary health care today.

The Government’s case for the Medicare rebate cut was shot to pieces last week by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) analysis that showed total national spending on health grew by a record low of just 1.5 per cent in real terms in 2012-13.

This was underpinned by a significant 2.4 per cent fall in Federal Government funding.

Health’s share of the Commonwealth Budget has fallen over the last seven years from more than 18 per cent to 16.1 per cent.

This is a very important point. Health spending has fallen – and fallen significantly – at the very time the Government is claiming it is rising and out of control.

The AMA has been saying this since Budget day. Health spending is not out of control. There is no health budget emergency. There is no crisis.

So, what should the Government be doing with health spending in this crisis-free environment?

The AMA’s advice is to invest in primary care now for the future.

Step one is to restore the $5 that is planned to be cut from the Medicare patient rebate.

Do not make it more expensive for people to see their doctor. Do not take funding out of general practice, the cornerstone of quality primary health care and the best value for every dollar invested in health.

Step two is adopt the AMA’s alternative model for a GP co-payment.

Our model is all about valuing general practice and investing in general practice for the long term.

We need to see significant new investment in general practice to benefit patients and communities today and in the immediate future.

The answer to sustainability of our health care system is encouraging people to go and see their GP. The focus must be on prevention and chronic disease management, which is the biggest challenge we face in health in the immediate future.

The Government must forget its unfair and inequitable co-payment plan. The Government must find other means to fund its Medical Research Future Fund.

The priority must be investment in general practice. This means more GPs, more consulting rooms, new equipment, support staff, and resources to meet the growing demand for quality primary health care services.

The evidence is in – health spending is not out of control.

Our advice to the Government on health policy is to invest wisely. Give priority to funding what works.

We present a health policy that will get through the Senate – restore the rebate cut and invest in general practice.

Published: 30 Sep 2014