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MBS Review a quick and nasty cost-cutting exercise

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Firstly, congratulations to the new Rural Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash, and to the Turnbull Government for recognising the long-neglected imperative to improve rural health care by creating such a ministry.

The Nationals Senator has long been a champion of health care in rural and regional Australia, and is most deserving of such elevation.

All rural medicos will, I am sure, join me in both wishing her well, and hoping she can achieve a long overdue about turn in health fortunes for the bush.

Secondly, congratulations to the National Broadband Network on successfully launching the Skymuster satellite to bring high speed broadband access to the bush in seven months’ time. This bush-focussed initiative will enable a huge variety of care provision to many in rural and remote Australia, provided it does not come with insurmountable financial barriers to participation. I trust the NBN will recognize that the bush is not awash with funds, and will heavily subsidise access.

So champers out and raise a glass. But there is a cloud on the horizon and it sure isn’t a rain-bearing one.

The current MBS Review, of which the AMA is not a part, is a cheap, quick, and nasty cost-cutting exercise. Patient needs be damned, this is about improving the Federal Budget bottom line.

The AMA has always supported reviewing and updating the MBS, and has participated in multiple MBS reviews.

But any such reviews must be of high quality and ongoing as medical care changes and evolves.

Think back on the millions of dollars poured into a genuine review of the MBS by the AMA, namely the Relative Value Study (RVS). When it became apparent to the Government of the day that the RVS would show the need for the investment of substantial dollars in providing fair MBS rebates for patients, they pulled the plug. Not surprisingly, they are the same mob we have in the driver’s seat today.

Reviews must not have publically announced, predetermined outcomes, and their focus must be on the best interests of patients, not on cost-cutting.

Sadly, the Review currently underway – if one can grace it with such a title – is a two-bob watch. It is a Mickey Mouse inquiry programmed to fail, with the Health Minister publically salivating at the prospect of reduced costs rather than improved patient outcomes.

The de facto involvement of the AMA through the participation of high profile AMA members leaves us open to blame for adverse outcomes.

But the reality is that the AMA has been excluded from this Review, and will in no way be to blame for its outcomes.

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