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11 May 2017 | AMA(SA) Media Release

The AMA South Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that it will lift the ‘freeze’ on Medicare patient rebates.

The AMA has strongly criticized the freeze as bad policy, both since it was first introduced under the Federal Labor Government and when it then continued, with additional bad ideas, in the Federal Liberal Government’s disastrous 2014 Health Budget.

The AMA has credited the current Health Minister, Greg Hunt, with a consultative approach, with the support of the Prime Minister.

“We are glad that the Federal Government has finally listened to the AMA, doctors and the community, about how damaging the Medicare rebate freeze is,” said newly-elected AMA South Australia State President A/Prof William Tam.

“It is a shame the freeze is not ended immediately and across the board, but in a staggered way – but it is important progress, and we are glad to recognize this.”

“However, we will still be left with a legacy from the previous poor policy, in that the lack of indexing over the past years will not be caught up. Rebates will remain behind what they should be – and they started from a low base.”

“So for members of the community and their hip pockets, it is not a big win, but it is a reprieve and a step in the right direction,” he said.

The Medicare rebate freeze will be lifted from bulk billing incentives for GP consultations from 1 July 2017, from standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations from 1 July 2018, from procedures from 1 July 2019, and targeted diagnostic imaging services from 1 July 2020.

The Government has also responded to AMA advocacy by: 

  • reversing proposed cuts to bulk billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology;
  • scrapping proposed changes to the Medicare Safety Net that would have penalised vulnerable patients;
  • delaying the introduction of the Health Care Homes trial until October to allow fine-tuning of the details;
  • moving to an opt-out approach for participation in the My Health Record; and
  • recognising the importance of diagnostic imaging to clinical decision-making.

The AMA supports the Government’s measures to increase the prescribing of generic medicines, when it is safe and appropriate and discussed with the patient, and preserves doctors’ clinical and prescribing independence, with savings to be invested back into the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The AMA has also welcomed the Federal Government's allocation of $350 million to help prevent suicide among war veterans; the expansion of the Supporting Leave for Living Organ Donors Program; measures to increase the vaccination rate; and the ban on gambling ads during live sporting broadcasts before 8.30pm. There is also extra funding for the Rheumatic Fever Strategy, in response to calls in the 2016 AMA Indigenous Health Report Card.

“With this Budget now done and dusted the AMA will, at a national level, be stressing the need to step up for public hospitals, mental health, prevention, Indigenous health, aged care, palliative care, rural health, private health insurance, and the medical workforce,” said A/Prof Tam.

“Many of these topics have special relevance in South Australia, where we have a high ageing population, the shocking reports from the Oakden state-federal older persons mental health and aged care facility, and much more work to do in Indigenous and rural health.”

“We also have a state government that some years ago substantially downgraded its work in prevention, and has in response to previous federal budget cuts initiated the controversial Transforming Health reforms.”

“Health in South Australia is still hurting, and while some good news can be found in this federal budget, we are going to need a lot more – at both state and federal levels – to be able to feel assured about what the SA community can expect to see in the future,” said A/Prof Tam.

“However, the Budget’s announcements should be acknowledged with cautious optimism and, hopefully, provide a sign of a Government which now better understands the value of the health system,” he stated.

The AMA will make further comment at state and national levels following examination of the complete Budget papers across portfolios.

11 May 2017 | Contact A/Prof Tam via Eva O’Driscoll, 8361 0106