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Freeze a white-hot election issue

Freeze a white-hot election issue - Featured Image

The Medicare rebate freeze is set to become a top issue in the Federal Election following the launch of a nationwide AMA campaign targeting Coalition MPs and candidates over the issue.

In a blow for Malcolm Turnbull as he seeks to win his first election as Prime Minister, the nation’s peak medical organisation is mobilising doctors and patients, accusing the Government of cutting Medicare and trying to sneak through a tax that would hit every Australian household.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler said that ever since Budget night the AMA has been flooded with complaints from medical practitioners and members of the public outraged by the Government’s decision.

“The Medicare freeze is not just a co-payment by stealth – it is a sneaky tax that punishes every Australian family,” Professor Owler said. “It will hit working families with kids really hard. It will hit people with chronic illness, and it will hit the elderly.”

The Budget decision to extend the Medicare rebate freeze through to 2020, at a saving of almost $1 billion over four years, has undermined Government attempts to neutralise health as an issue in the Federal Election.

Related: Practices dumping bulk billing as Medicare rebate freeze bites

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acted to get public hospital funding out of the headlines by giving the states and territories an extra $2.9 billion at a Council of Australian Governments meeting last month, and Health Minister Sussan Ley has been accused of trying to deflect public attention by mounting attacks on the professionalism and integrity of doctors and other health workers.

But the Government, which has previously been forced to back down on plans to introduce patient co-payments in the face of widespread doctor and patient fury, faces a similar outcry over the extended Medicare freeze.

Professor Owler said the decision placed GPs and other specialists under enormous financial strain and left them no choice but pass their increased costs onto their patients.

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“The costs of running a medical practice – rents, staff, technology and equipment, indemnity insurance, accreditation – continue to rise year-on-year,” the AMA President said. “Many doctors have absorbed the impact of the freeze until now, but the two-year extension has pushed them over the edge. Their businesses are now struggling to remain viable.”

Professor Owler has warned that for practices that have traditionally bulk billed their patients, moving to a model in which they begin to charge some will be expensive.

Related: GPs to launch targeted Medicare campaign

To recoup the outlay and cover associated costs, patients faced being charged up to $30 or more a visit, he said.

Combined with the Government’s decision to axe bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services, it meant that patients would “face higher costs for their health every step of their health care journey – every GP visit, every specialist visit, every blood test, every x-ray”.

Posters supporting the #nomedicarefreeze campaign are being distributed to 30,000 GPs and other medical specialists around the country, and doctors and patients are being provided with the contact details of MPs and candidates in every electorate.

Professor Owler said the medical profession was united in its efforts to put an end to the Medicare freeze, and the AMA campaign would complement those of other medical organisations.

For information and to download campaign materials, visit: ama.com.au/nomedicarefreeze

Adrian Rollins

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