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Rebate freeze threatening quality GP care

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The nation’s GP leaders have warned the Federal Government’s Medicare rebate freeze is undermining the quality of care and will have “serious repercussions” for patients.

The nation’s peak general practice representative group United General Practice Australia (UGPA), which includes the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia and several other doctor organisations, has told the Government that financial pressure caused by the Medicare rebate freeze was threatening the kind of services general practices could provide.

“Modern general practice relies on sophisticated infrastructure to support quality care. The Government’s policies are eroding this infrastructure,” UGPA said in a statement. “It is challenging for practices to even maintain the status quo as the impact of the Medicare freeze compounds year on year.”

The peak group said GPs were being caught in a financial squeeze between increasing patient demands and rising running costs on one side, and stagnant income from Medicare on the other.

“Like all small businesses, general practices must cover many costs, including for staff, equipment, technology, building, insurance, and medical indemnity,”. “Many general practices are reviewing their practice costs and business operations in order to remain viable. The ongoing freeze is eroding the ability of practices to continue to meet demand and maintain the highest possible levels of primary care.”

The warning follows the release of data showing that patient out-of-pocket costs have surged as struggling practices have moved to offset the relative loss of income caused by the rebate freeze.

Medicare figures show that GP patient fees jumped 6.5 per cent last financial year, the biggest rise in four years, to reach an average $34.25, underlining AMA warnings that Government policies were pushing many general practices to the financial breaking point, with serious consequences for patients and access to quality care.

“GPs are caught in a diabolical squeeze,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said recently. “They are caring for increasingly sick patients while the Government tightens the financial screws in the name of budget repair. GPs are now at breaking point. Many patients who are currently bulk billed will face out-of-pocket costs well over $20.”

Health Minister Sussan Ley has claimed the record high bulk billing rate of 85.1 per cent showed that patients continued to get ready access to care.

But UGPA said this ignored the enormous pressure being placed on GPs and the increased costs imposed on patients.

“With an ageing population and a dramatic increase in the number of patients with complex and chronic conditions, the demand on quality health care from GPs is growing significantly and quickly,” the peak general practice coalition said. “The Medicare rebate freeze is squeezing general practice. It will have serious repercussions for our patients, especially the most vulnerable, and the health of the economy.

The group has added its voice to AMA calls for the Government to immediately scrap the rebate freeze.

Adrian Rollins

 

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