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Senate report highlights lack of Medicare funding for general practice

Health Industry Hub | April 6, 2022 |
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Medical: The interim report recommendations of a Senate report into primary healthcare has made clear that the current Medicare funding for general practice services is inadequate.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Omar Khorshid said the interim report from the Community Affairs References Committee called for across the board increases in funding for general practice.

“The committee has been inquiring into the provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians and has validated our continual call for a new fairer funding model and structure of GP services, to benefit both GPs and Australians living outside metropolitan areas.

“We welcome the acknowledgement in the report that current Medicare funding for general practice services in Australia is inadequate and needs to be significantly improved. General practice has had to deal with inadequate indexation of Medicare rebates since Medicare was introduced and patient rebate freezes under both major parties.

“The simple reality is the rate of growth in a patient’s Medicare rebate is less than inflation and staff wages growth. In real terms, general practice is being asked to do more with less and this is impacting practice viability and access to services for patients.”

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RACGP President Professor Karen Price said that the interim report vindicated what GPs had been saying for many years.

“It is music to my ears that the committee is recommending the federal Government investigates substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations, as well as other general practice funding options,” she said.

“Medicare rebates for patients simply haven’t kept pace with inflation and the cost of providing high-quality general practice care. In addition, the current Medicare rebate structure devalues longer consultations because patient rebates decrease significantly the longer a person spends with their GP.

“As I have said again and again – good care requires time. That includes time to listen, time to assess and time to collaborate with other healthcare providers. Substantially increasing Medicare rebates at all levels will make an enormous difference for patient care in communities right across Australia.”

Dr Omar Khorshid said fewer doctors were choosing to enter the GP training program, fueled by a growing view that governments and Medicare simply did not value the significant skills and expertise of GPs.

“This is the product of deliberate Government policy over many years that has taken general practice for granted,” he said.

“The AMA had hoped the Commonwealth’s attitude to general practice would change, however, the long-awaited Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan released in last week’s Budget was simply more of the same. It delivered a welcome vision for general practice, but no funding to deliver that vision.

“The response of the Opposition has been equally as disappointing. Just weeks out from an election it is yet to release any meaningful GP policy and relying on voters to believe that it will be better.”

Clinical Professor Price said that greater investment in general practice was vital in securing the future of the GP workforce, particularly in areas where finding a GP can prove difficult if not impossible.

“We are a critical juncture with only 15% of final-year medical students in 2019 listing general practice as their first-preference speciality for the future – the lowest figure since all the way back in 2012,” she said.

Dr Khorshid said the interim report also made other important recommendations in support of strengthening general practice. He said this included expanding opportunities for young doctors in training to experience general practice, while also highlighting the need for employment reform for GPs in training who have inferior employment conditions when compared to their hospital-based colleagues.

“The AMA has put forward sensible and costed ideas that would support improved access to care through general practice and put general practice on a much more sustainable footing as the population ages and people’s care needs become more complex.

“The major parties need to do much better as the specialty is being left to struggle with a growing workload as the community ages and patients’ health care needs become more complex,” Dr Khorshid said.

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