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It is not about savings, honest: Minister reassures AMA on MBS review

Health Minister Sussan Ley has given AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler her personal assurance that the review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiated by the Abbott Government is not being driven by a search for savings.

In a notable intervention just hours after the Budget was released, Ms Ley was forced to reaffirm that the primary purpose of the review, announced by the Government last month, was to modernise the MBS and make sure the services listed on it were best practice.

The AMA had given its support to the review on the grounds that its main focus was on eliminating inefficiencies and reflecting advances in medical practise.

But following the release of the Budget, A/Professor Owler sought urgent reassurances from the Government that that remained the case, and that the review would not be simply a cost-cutting exercise.

“I have sought clarification from the Minister that there is no dollar amount attached to the MBS review, which was one of the conditions on the AMA and the profession supporting this process,” the AMA President said. “So, we remain committed to the process of the MBS review. It is not purely about a savings measure, this must be about making sure that we have a modern MBS that actually reflects modern medical practice, and it actually maintains access for patient services.”

In the Budget, the Government allocated $34.3 million over the next two years to support the work of the Medical Services Advisory Committee and “deliver an expanded process of MBS review overseen by a clinician-led Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce”.

A/Professor Owler said the AMA accepted that the Government would be looking for savings, but warned the medical profession would not participate in a process that was primarily aimed at achieving a “hit-list of savings”.

Concerns about the overriding purpose of the review were fuelled by a briefing by Health Department Secretary Martin Bowles in which he told the AMA President and other health leaders the MBS review would build on considerable savings already made by MBS review processes.

A/Professor Owler said the comments were inconsistent with previous Government assurances that the MBS review was not about Budget savings, and prompted him to seek urgent clarification from the Minister.

Following his discussions with Ms Ley, the AMA President said he was now satisfied that the Government’s objective for the review, as originally stated, was to update the MBS to reflect modern practice and remove inefficiencies.

The fact the review is to be led by respected clinician, Sydney Medical School Dean Professor Bruce Robinson, and its work is to be complemented by a Primary Health Care Advisory Group chaired by immediate-past AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, has helped build confidence about the quality of the recommendations that will come from the process.

And Ms Ley has been at pains to emphasise that, although the review may result in savings, that was not its overriding purpose, and it was part of a “balanced” approach to expenditure being taken by the Commonwealth.

“The Abbott Government has announced a balanced approach to health spending focussed on efficient, evidence-based investment and laying the foundations for long-term reform,” the Minister said.

She said the Government’s approach enabled a “sensible” $2.3 billion increase in the health budget to $69.7 billion in 2015-16, “whilst also delivering efficiencies that are evidence-based and ensure the future sustainability of program spending”.


Adrian Rollins