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President highlights AMA influence

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon opened the 2017 National Conference lauding the political influence of the organisation he leads.

He told delegates that the past 12 months had been eventful and had resulted in numerous achievements in health policy.

“The AMA is a key player in Federal politics in Canberra. The range of issues we deal with every day is extensive,” Dr Gannon said.

“Our engagement with the Government, the bureaucracy, and with other health groups is constant and at the highest levels.

“Our policy work is across the health spectrum, and is highly regarded.

“The AMA’s political influence is significant.”

Describing the political environment over the past year as volatile – which included a federal election and two Health Ministers to deal with – Dr Gannon said the AMA had spent the year negotiating openly and positively with all sides of politics.

“Our standing is evidenced by the attendance at this conference of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt AM, and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King,” he said.

“Health policy has been a priority for all of them, as it has been for the AMA.”

While the Medicare rebate freeze was the issue to have dominated medical politics, there are still more policy areas to deal with in the coming year.

The freeze was bad policy that hurt doctors and patients.

“I was pleased just weeks ago on Budget night to welcome the Government’s decision to end the freeze,” Dr Gannon told the conference.

“The freeze will be wound back over three years. We would have preferred an immediate across the board lifting of the freeze, but at least now practices can plan ahead with confidence.

“Lifting the freeze has effectively allowed the Government to rid itself of the legacy of the disastrous 2014 Health Budget.

“We can now move on with our other priorities… We will maintain our role of speaking out on any matter that needs to be addressed in health.”

Dr Gannon said while the Medicare freeze hit general practice hard, it was not the only factor making things tough for hardworking GPs.

General practice is under constant pressure, he said, yet it continues to deliver great outcomes for patients.

GPs are delivering high quality care and are the most cost effective part of the health system.

“One of the most divisive issues that the AMA has had to resolve in the past 12 months is the Government’s ill-considered election deal with Pathology Australia to try and cap rents paid for co-located pathology collection centres,” Dr Gannon said.

“We all know that our pathologist members play a critical role in helping us to make the right decisions about our patients’ care. They are essential to what we do every day.

“It was disappointing to see the Government’s deal pit pathologists against GPs.

“The pathology sector is right to demand that allegations of inappropriate rents are tackled, and the GPs are equally entitled to charge rents that place a proper value on the space being let.

“The recent Budget saw the rents deal dumped in favour of a more robust compliance framework, based on existing laws. This is a more balanced approach.

“The AMA will work with Government and other stakeholders to ensure that allegations of inappropriate rents are tackled effectively.

“We want to ensure that patients continue to access pathology services solely on the basis of quality.”

The AMA is a critical adviser to the Government on its roll-out of the Health Care Home trial.

It shares the Government’s vision for the trial, but will continue to provide robust policy input to ensure it has every chance of success.

The AMA has secured a short delay in the roll-out of the trial.

Other issues the President highlighted as areas the AMA is having significant influenced included: the Practice Incentive Program; My Health Record; Indigenous Health; After-Hours GP Services; the MBS Review; public hospitals; private insurance; and the medical workforce.

Chris Johnson