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Government targets quality in proposed PIP overhaul

Government targets quality in proposed PIP overhaul - Featured Image

The AMA has expressed concern that a proposed major shake-up of the Practice Incentives Program is not being supported by increased investment in general practice.

The Health Department has unveiled plans to “refresh” the 18-year-old PIP system by slashing the number of incentive payment categories on offer, reducing the administrative burden on practices and intensifying the focus on quality.

Under the proposal, outlined in a discussion paper released by the Department, seven existing payments covering asthma, cervical screening, diabetes, aged care access, prescribing, Indigenous health and procedural GP incentives would be axed; four existing payments, covering rural loading, after hours services, teaching and e-health – would be maintained; and a new Quality Improvement Incentive payment would be introduced.

The AMA has welcomed the increased focus on quality, and is in consultation with the Department over the proposal to collapse the PIP payment categories.

But it voiced concern that the changes were not being supported by an increase in financial support for GPs, particularly given that many practices are being pushed to the financial brink by the Medicare rebate freeze and the prospect of cuts to pathology collection centre rents.

The Department has indicated that there will be no extra money injected in the PIP scheme.

It said the quality incentive payment would be used to “give general practices increased flexibility to improve their detection and management of a range of chronic conditions, and to focus on issues specific to their practice population”.

The push to overhaul the PIP system comes at the same time the Government is launching the initial stage of its Health Care Home model of care and undertaking a comprehensive review of the 5700 services listed on the MBS.

The Department said the initiatives together would “take the health system towards services that are aligned with contemporary practice”.

The case for changes to the PIP has been mounting in recent years, with a number of organisations including the Australian National Audit Office, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Grattan Institute all raising concerns that the system imposed an unduly heavy administrative burden on practices and was failing to keep up with evolving health needs and priorities.

The Department said the evidence showed that many existing incentives might be no longer appropriate, and that the more could be achieved by intensifying the focus on quality, including by making better use of data.

“Redesigning the PIP would enable it to move away from process-focused funding towards a simpler system that encourages quality improvement and innovation, and allows practices to see improvements in measures that are important to them,” it said.

Precisely how this could be achieved was up for consultation and debate, the Department added.

It suggested two options. One would be to merge all five PIP items (including the new Quality Improvement Incentive) into a single payment administered by the Department of Humans Services – essentially building on and adapting existing arrangements. Eligible practices would receive sign-on and quarterly payments, to be used to make quality improvements of their choosing.

Under the second option, the Department would no longer directly fund practices. Instead, practices would use PIP funds to engage third-party providers to support their quality improvement work.

Whatever the option chosen, practices would be required to regularly share data to map quality improvements, individually, locally and nationally.

The Government is inviting submissions on the proposed PIP overhaul. The deadline is 30 November.

The Department’s consultation paper can be downloaded here.

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