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GPs win an ePIP breather

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Medical practices being pushed to the financial brink by the Medicare rebate freeze and other Government cuts have won a partial reprieve after Health Minister Sussan Ley pushed back the deadline on shared health summary uploads to early next year.

In a breakthrough following intense lobbying by the AMA, Ms Ley has advised GPs will be given until 31 January 2017 to comply with new rules that require practices to upload shared health summaries (SHS) for at least 0.5 per cent of patients every quarter to remain eligible for the Practice Incentive Program Digital Health Incentive.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, who has raised the issue at a several meetings with the Minister, said the decision was “very welcome”.

“GPs are already under significant financial pressure from the Medicare rebate freeze and other funding cuts, and the last thing they needed was to also lose vital PIP incentive payments,” he said.

The Government originally required practices to comply with the new eligibility criteria from May this year, but the AMA warned at the time that this would be unworkable for many practices and risked undermining the goodwill of GPs which was essential to making the My Health Record system a success.

In June, the AMA called for a moratorium on the new rules after a survey it conducted found that just 24 per cent of practices considered themselves able to comply, while almost 40 per cent said they would not be able to and 36 per cent were unsure.

Government figures show that in the first three months of operation, 1500 practices failed to meet their SHS upload target and 69 practices withdrew from the scheme altogether.

Dr Gannon said failure to comply had the potential to deliver a heavy financial blow to practices already under substantial financial pressure.

“If the Government had not relaxed its approach, close to a third of previously eligible general practices faced losing significant financial support,” the AMA President said. “In many cases, practices would have been more than $20,000 worse off. With so many already close to breaking point, this could have been disastrous.”

The Minister’s decision follows a resolution passed by the AMA Federal Council in August calling for a moratorium on the new upload requirements and urging the Government to investigate the reasons why so many practices were struggling to comply.

The Federal Council said the Government should get the Practice Incentive Program Advisory Group (PIPAG) to conduct the review and provide recommendations on what could be done to improve practice compliance.

Dr Gannon said the episode highlighted the importance of the Government heeding the views and advice of general practitioners and their representatives.

The Government had pushed ahead with its SHS requirements against the advice of all the GP groups sitting on PIPAG, and the AMA President said in future it should ensure that any changes to the PIP Digital Health Incentive were based on the Advisory Group’s advice.

Dr Gannon said the medical profession strongly supported the Government’s My Health Record, and the Minister’s decision to extend the SHS requirement deadline would help shore up the goodwill of GPs to support its successful implementation.

“It is pleasing that the Minister has recognised the concerns that have been consistently raised by the profession, and this decision provides some breathing space for practices,” Dr Gannon said.

“With adequate time, education, and support, many of the affected 1500 general practices may well begin to genuinely engage with the My Health Record, and eventually champion it.

“But it is important that the Government continues to review the implementation of the PIP Digital Health Incentive in consultation with PIPAG.

“We need to know why practices failed to comply, and ensure that any of these issues are addressed before the end of January deadline. If a large number of practices still cannot comply by the new deadline, we may still need to revisit the policy.”

Adrian Rollins