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Malcolm a chance for a fresh start on health

Malcolm Turnbull a chance for a fresh start on health - Featured Image

The AMA has urged new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to lift the freeze on Medicare rebates as part of a fresh approach to health policy by the Coalition Government.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler was quick to congratulate Mr Turnbull on his election as Liberal Party leader, and said the medical profession was keen to work with him on “practical solutions” to the challenges facing the health system.

The incoming Prime Minister has had little to say on health policy in recent years, and assumes national leadership at a time of significant disruption and uncertainty in the health sector, much of it stemming from radical Government policy measures – not least proposals for a GP co-payment.

“Poor health policy plagued the Coalition following the 2014 Budget, and the Government has struggled to fully recover,” Professor Owler said, citing the ill-fated GP co-payment plan and the highly controversial move to walk away from public hospital funding commitments.

The AMA President said the Government’s management of the health portfolio had since improved, but several measures, not least a freeze on the indexation of Medicare rebates until mid-2018, continue to put a strain on its relationship with the health sector.

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Professor Owler paid tribute to the commitment of outgoing Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Indigenous health, and acknowledged his central role in killing off the GP co-payment.

But the AMA has ongoing concerns about the effects of several other policies, and Professor Owler said that one of Mr Turnbull’s first acts should be to scrap the Medicare rebate freeze because it would reduce access to care, particularly for the disadvantaged and chronically ill.

Already, the effects of the policy are being felt, with medical practices across the country confirming they are reducing bulk billing, lifting fees and, in some cases, closing down because of the squeeze on their finances.

While removing the rebate freeze should be the top priority, Professor Owler said there were many other pressing issues that also demanded the attention of the Turnbull Government, including reinstating Commonwealth funding for public hospitals, reviewing the private health insurance system, boosting investment in general practice, ensuring genuine consultation with the medical profession regarding the on-going reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and leading a coordinated national approach to medical workforce planning.

Though Mr Turnbull is yet to announce the composition of his frontbench, it is widely expected that Health Minister Sussan Ley will retain her portfolio. She is seen to have been effective in rebuilding the Government’s relations with the health sector.

Adrian Rollins

Photo: Flickr CC2.0 ITU Pictures

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