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Frontline care could be casualty of co-payment deals

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The AMA has raised concerns that patients and primary health care services could be short-changed in any horse trading done by the Federal Government to secure Senate support for its controversial health cuts.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler warned that even if the Government’s plan for a $7 co-payment for GP, pathology and diagnostic imaging services was knocked back by the Senate, it might still receive backing for its $5 cut to Medicare rebates, leaving both patients and doctors worse off.

“What we are concerned about is the potential trade-offs and deals that might be done that might mean that we do not have a co-payment, but are still stuck with a cut to the Medicare rebate,” A/Professor Owler said. “That would mean patients are worse off [and] that there is no support for GPs or investment in general practice.”

The Government has so far held firm to its co-payment plan. Health Minister Peter Dutton has insisted that he will not compromise on the proposal.

But Mr Dutton and other senior ministers have to this point failed to convince key minor party and cross-bench senators to back the idea. Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has declared it a “dead duck”, and only Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm has come out in its support.

The AMA has continued to meet with senior Government ministers to discuss its alternative proposal for a $6.15 co-payment, with exemptions for concession card holders and children younger than 16 years and no cut to the Medicare rebate.

Mr Dutton quickly dismissed the AMA plan as a “cash grab” by doctors, but A/Professor Owler said the Association was continuing to talk about its proposal with other minsters, including at a meeting with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann earlier this month.

“We had a very good discussion about the details of the plan [with Senator Cormann],” he said. “When you actually look at the plan and go through the details, [there is] protection for vulnerable patients but [it] actually meets a number of the Government’s other objectives.”

The Government has complained that the AMA’s plan would rip $3.5 billion from the proposed Medical Research Future Fund, but A/Professor Owler he had become cynical about the plan.

“The MRFF is being used as a vehicle that allows the Government to cut funding to frontline services but still say it has not cut the overall health budget,” he said.

Adrian Rollins