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Penny pinching threatens chronic care reform

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The Federal Government’s landmark Health Care Homes reform is at risk of collapse because of a lack of funding, the AMA has warned.

Health Minister Sussan Ley has announced that $100 million will be provided to support the phase one trial of the reform, involving 65,000 patients and 200 medical practices in 10 regions across the country.

Under the Government’s plans, practices will receive monthly bundled payments worth an average $1795 a year to manage patients with chronic and complex health conditions. Payments will vary from $591 for chronically ill patients who can largely self-manage their condition to $1267 for those who need more intensive care and $1795 for those with the most complex health demands.

The allocations mean that patients on the lowest level of subsidy will be funded for just 16 visits to the doctor a year, rising to 48 visits a year for those deemed of highest need.

Controversially, such patients would only be eligible for five extra Medicare-subsidised visits to the doctor for health issues that lie outside their chronic illness – a major change from the current system under which patients have uncapped access to GP care.

A spokesperson for Ms Ley told Fairfax that five-visit cap was only an “indicative figure for modelling and planning purposes”, and said no patient would have their access to Medicare restricted or capped.

Ms Ley said Health Care Homes allowed for team-based, integrated care and would provide increased flexibility and coordination of services to tailor treatment to individual need.

But the details of the trial have reinforced suspicions that the Government is undertaking Health Care Homes primarily as a cost cutting exercise, and the AMA voiced concerns that if the reform was not adequately funded it could founder.

“The modelling is concerning and potentially leaves the whole program at risk of falling over because of being underfunded from the beginning,” AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone told News Corporation.

Dr Bartone, a GP, is the AMA’s representative on the Government’s Health Care Home Implementation Advisory Group, which last met on 30 September.

He said that, if appropriately funded, Health Care Homes could support GPs to keep patients healthier and out of hospital, but added the Government needed the goodwill of general practitioners if its trial was to succeed.

“That goodwill will evaporate significantly if there is not the appropriate funding,” he warned.

Earlier this year, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon warned that appropriate funding would be a “critical test” of the success or otherwise of the reform.

“BEACH data shows that GPs are managing more chronic disease. But they are under substantial financial pressure due to the Medicare freeze and a range of other funding cuts,” Dr Gannon said.

“GPs cannot afford to deliver enhanced care to patients with no extra support. If the funding model is not right, GPs will not engage with the trial and the model will struggle to succeed.”

Adrian Rollins