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Committee backs AMA on primary care

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A parliamentary committee has called on the Federal Government to consider reforms to the Medicare Benefits Schedule to help GPs better manage chronic disease in patients.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health handed down its report on Chronic Disease Prevention and Management in Primary Health Care last month, noting that the groundwork for improvements to the primary health care system already existed.

“It is clear, however, that this cannot occur without cooperation, coordination, evaluation and adequate data and records to support Primary Health Networks in fulfilling their important role as coordinators of care,” the committee said.

“Performance measurements, expansion of chronic disease items, improved referral and rebate claiming processes and encouraging private health insurers to manage their members in cooperation with the primary health care system is a clear goal.”

The AMA made a submission to the inquiry in August last year, noting that primary health care was critical to providing quality, effective and empowering health care for people with chronic disease.

“With more than half of all potentially preventable hospital admissions due to chronic conditions, costing more than $1.3 billion a year, there are significant benefits in ensuring access to timely, clinically necessary and well-coordinated health care,” the AMA said.

The AMA called for reform of the MBS to restructure specific chronic disease management (CDM) items to cut red tape and reflect modern clinical practice.

It also called for formal engagement protocols between Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and Local Hospital Networks (LHNs) to work together on areas such as transitioning patients out of hospitals and into aged care.

It recognised that there was scope for private health insurers to explore the potential for greater engagement with general practice, but urged caution on expanding their role into a managed care model.

The Committee picked up many of the AMA’s recommendations.

It recommended the Government investigate expanding the number of allied health treatments that can attract an MBS rebate within a year, on the proviso that the patient has the relevant General Practitioner Management Plan and Team Care Arrangements in place.

It also recommended that the Government examine reforms to the MBS to allow for a practitioner to claim a rebate for a chronic disease management consultation and a general consultation benefit, for the same person on the same day.

It recommended considering expanding the Practice Incentives Program to include programs for breast, bowel and skin cancer screening, as well as the Integrated Health Check developed by the National Vascular Disease Prevention Alliance.

“Preventive health promotion as well as expanded health checks will help to provide the awareness and early detection required to help combat these diseases,” the committee said.

“The Health Care Home trials which are expected to commence in 2017 will help to improve this outcome, and with appropriate funding, privacy considerations, capture and consolidation of data, and a focus on research and improvement, the cooperative care goals required to improve chronic disease primary care can become a reality.”

Maria Hawthorne