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GP pay up for grabs in primary health overhaul

GP pay up for grabs in primary health overhaul - Featured Image

Set fees and performance payments are among changes to GP remuneration being considered as part of efforts to remodel the primary health system to improve the care of patients with chronic and complex conditions.

The Federal Government’s Primary Health Care Advisory Group, led by immediate-past AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, has canvassed a number of GP payment options in a discussion paper outlining potential reforms to address the rising chronic care challenge.

While the current fee-for-service model worked well in the majority of instances, the Better Outcomes for People with Chronic and Complex Health Conditions through Primary Health Care Discussion Paper said it did not provide incentives for the efficient management of patients who required ongoing care.

Instead, it suggested alternatives included capitated payments, where GPs, health teams, practices or a Primary Health Network receive a set amount to provide specified services over a given period of time; or pay-for-performance, where remuneration is tied to the achievement of particular care outcomes; or some combination of all three.

The discussion paper also suggests ideas about how care is organised and managed, including the creation of medical homes, GP-led team-based care, improved use of technology and upgrading techniques to monitor and evaluate care.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler welcomed the release of the discussion paper, but warned the Government that reform would not succeed without significant investment in general practice.

Professor Owler said several of the options for reform canvassed by Dr Hambleton’s Group had long been supported by the AMA, including GP-led team-based care, the improved use of technology, care coordinators, and an expanded role for private health insurers.

He said the new payment models outlined were a challenge for the medical profession, and would need ongoing discussion.

But he warned that the Government needed to support general practice if it was genuine in seeking to improve care.

“What is missing from the discussion paper is an explicit statement that we need to better fund and resource general practice if we are to meet the health challenges of the future,” Professor Owler said. “The final outcome from this Review must be more than simply re-allocating existing funding.”

Dr Hambleton emphasised that the paper had been developed to encourage discussion, but warned that things needed to change.

He said increasing life expectancy meant more patients were presenting with multiple chronic and complex health complaints, and current arrangements were increasingly struggling to meet their care needs.

More than a third of Australians have a chronic health condition and the discussion paper said that because the system was not set up to effectively manage long-term complaints, many were turning up unnecessarily in hospital and emergency departments, adding millions of dollars to the nation’s health bill.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said it was “essential” to review the provision of chronic care, because Medicare benefits for chronic care were soaring – up almost 17 per cent to $587 million in 2013-14 alone.

“We are committed to finding better ways to care for people with chronic and complex conditions and ensure they receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” Ms Ley said. “This discussion is a real opportunity to cater for the increase in chronic and complex conditions, and this approach ensures that health professionals and patients continue to be central to this process.”

But Professor Owler said the reality was that primary health review was being undertaken at a time when general practice was under sustained attack from the Government, and a “more positive” attitude was urgently needed.

“General practice has been the target of regular Budget cuts that undermine the viability of practices, and threaten the long term sustainability and quality of GP services,” he said. “The freeze on Medicare patient rebates is the prize example. It is causing great harm to GPs, their practices, and their patients.

“If the Government is genuine about improving how we care for patients with chronic and complex disease in primary care, greater investment and genuine commitment to positive reform is needed,” Professor Owler said.

As part of its consultation process, the Primary Health Care Advisory Group is conducting an online survey that will be open until 3 September. To access the survey and discussion paper, visit www.health.gov.au

In addition, the Group is holding a series of public meetings in major cities and regional centres around the country, and will host a nationwide webcast on 21 August.

It is due to present its final report to the Government by the end of the year.

Adrian Rollins