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Co-payment policy at crossroads

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It is being widely speculated this week that the Government may choose to put its controversial GP and other co-payment proposals ‘on hold’.

Reports indicate that the Government has not been expending too much energy trying to win the support of crossbench Senators.

Time is running out for the Government to get the co-payments through the Senate this year. Most crossbenchers – including the newly independent Senator Lambie – are strongly opposed to the co-payments, and are not for turning.

There are just two sitting weeks to go, and all indications are that the Government will try to focus on its equally unpopular higher education reforms before Christmas, leaving the co-payments battle to another day.

The AMA has major concerns with aspects of the tertiary education changes, but our primary focus is on the co-payments and the under-reported Government plan to cut the Medicare patient rebate by $5. Any moves to cut the rebate must be resisted, and the AMA has been leading the resistance.

We have been engaging with politicians of all persuasions to argue against the Government’s co-payment and the Medicare rebate cut.

We have also been explaining the merits of the AMA’s alternative co-payment plan.

The Government clearly has a major political and public problem with its co-payments – but there is a clear way forward.

The compromise it should consider is to accept the AMA’s alternative co-payments proposal.

Our plan invests in general practice and protects vulnerable patients, without cutting the Medicare rebate or the bulk billing incentive.

Our plan would reduce bulk billing rates to about 50 per cent, and it achieves the Government’s aim of a price signal for patients who can afford to pay in general practice.

Our proposal would also allow the Government to achieve its $20 billion goal for the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) over eight years, instead of six. Or it could settle for a $15 billion MRFF, which is still substantial.

Better still, the Government could find less controversial ways to fund the MRFF.

The AMA is the only group with an alternative plan to invest heavily in general practice to meet the community’s growing demand for quality accessible primary care services.

Investment in general practice for prevention and chronic disease management is the best strategy – not only for a sustainable health care system, but also for economic prosperity.

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