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AMA’s 2014 appointment book filling up following a year of achievement


 It seems like only a short time ago that I wrote my last wrap-up for the year that was.

The speed with which I find myself reflecting on the challenges and wins of 2013 is testament to another full year of AMA advocacy on behalf of our members and the nation’s general practitioners.  

The start of 2013 had general practices struggling to understand the myriad requirements of preparing for the revised Practice Incentives Program (PIP) eHealth Incentive and the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR). The AMA Guide to Using the PCEHR and the AMA checklist Getting ready for the PIP eHealth Incentive and PCEHR provided much needed clarity.

Notwithstanding this, the PCEHR has continued to be a real challenge for practices and doctors to understand, implement and use. AMA advocacy saw the new Health Minister Peter Dutton acting quickly to commission a high-level review of the PCEHR.  

In May, measures announced in the Federal Budget were set to seriously erode Medicare and increase the pressure on GPs to providing more for less. Decisions including freezing Medicare rebates until July this year, raising the Extended Medicare Safety Net threshold, removing the medical expenses tax offset and eliminating so-called “double billing” all undermine access to medical care.

Fortunately, another Budget measure, the proposed $2000 cap on work related self-education expenses, has been scrapped by the Abbott Government following a vigorous campaign, of which the AMA was at the forefront.

A further challenge arose when Medicare Locals assumed funding responsibility for after-hours GP medical services. The contracts offered by Medicare Locals imposed onerous conditions on GPs, and the AMA stepped in to have them changed. Following AMA pressure, the Health Department clarified the guidelines for funding used by the Medicare Locals, and worked with the Australian Medicare Local Alliance to develop simplified contracts for after-hours GP services.

Given this experience, and a range of other concerns regarding the structure and governance of Medicare Locals, the AMA called for a review to assess the contribution Medicare Locals were making to the provision of quality primary care in Australia. The Government agreed to this and the AMA’s submission to the review – led by former Chief Medical Officer Professor John Horvath and due to report by March – was strongly informed by the responses of grass roots GPs to an AMA survey on Medical Locals.

During last year the AMA was also successful in:

·         obtaining Australian Competition and Consumer Commission authorisation for GPs in the same practice to set common fees;

·         defeating an attempt by the Australian Nursing Federation to bargain on behalf of practice nurses;

·         getting the PIP Teaching Incentive doubled; and

·         increasing the profile and role of GPs through Family Doctor Week.

Just as 2013 presented many challenges, 2014 will no doubt have its share.

The AMA Council of General Practice, which I’m honoured to Chair, will in the coming year play a vital role informing AMA policy across a number of issues.

These are likely to include the medical home; pharmacists in general practice; barriers to GP teaching; GP engagement in private health insurance programs; the future of Medicare Locals; developments within programs such as the Practice Incentives Program and Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program; and increasing the breadth and depth of GP membership.  

I look forward to meeting the challenges ahead.