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MBS review savings must stay in health: AMA

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler says he has received assurances from Health Minister Sussan Ley that any savings realised from the review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule will be ploughed back in to funding new treatments.

Ms Ley provoked a surge of concern about the review last week when she told Sky News that any money freed up by the process would be diverted into the $20 billion dollar Medical Research Future Fund rather than being reinvested in new MBS items.

 “If there are savings, it [sic] will go into the Medical Research Future Fund, as we promised in the last Budget,” the Minister said.

But A/Professor Owler told News Corp he had sought assurances from Ms Ley that this would not be the case.

“I clarified with the Minister’s office, and if there are savings identified through the review, these would be reinvested into health rather than the Medical Research Future Fund,” the AMA President said.

The AMA has backed the creation of the Fund, but has been highly critical of plans to pay for it using money taken from patients and primary health care, such as through GP co-payments, various forms of which have been proposed and dumped by the Government.

Although several savings measures to free up money for the Fund have come into effect, including the abolition of stand-alone health agencies, the Government is yet to set up the Fund amid speculation its size and scope will be considerably reduced.

But A/Professor Owler has previously said the money was there to get the Fund going, and last week he repeated his challenge to the Government to set it up.

“If the Fund is so important, why hasn’t it yet been established?” he told the Northern Territory News.

Earlier, the AMA President commented on rumours the health portfolio had been targeted for $7 billion of savings in the forthcoming Budget.

“That would be a very big surprise for the AMA and, I’m sure, doctors and the Australian public,” he said. “The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that there would, first of all, [be] no cuts to health, but second of all, has said that there will be no new health initiatives without the broad support of the medical profession.

“So, I would be very surprised if those sorts of measures were introduced without talking to the AMA or other health groups.

“I heard some of those rumours…and I put those questions directly to the Minister for Health, who has reassured me that that is not going to be the case. But, obviously, we will be watching the Budget very closely.”

Adrian Rollins