31 May 2016
Australia’s general practice leaders have vowed to keep up the pressure in the fight against the Government’s freeze on Medicare patient rebates.
The announcement in the May Budget of a two-year extension to the Medicare freeze has only served to further galvanize the nation’s GPs who are taking unprecedented action, campaigning during a Federal Election and educating patients as to how it will affect them and their healthcare.
United General Practice Australia (UGPA) welcomed the recent announcements by both Labor and Greens, pledging to lift the Medicare freeze on general practice – a move that makes sense on a number of levels.
UGPA members said the campaign would continue until all sides of politics agreed to lift the freeze. The long-term health of their patients is their top priority and they voiced grave concern at the damaging effects the ongoing freeze will have on their patients and the healthcare system overall.
UGPA said if the extension of freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) runs its course, it will mean the value of patient rebates will fall by 20 per cent in real terms by 2020. UGPA members echoed previous warnings by Australia’s GPs that the freeze will increase out-of-pocket expenses for patients, and decrease access for Australia’s most vulnerable groups. There is grave concern that the continuation of the freeze will have a detrimental impact on patient access to general practice services, causing further stress on the country’s already exhausted hospital system.
The circumstances of each GP will differ, but GPs may have to charge patients an add-on of $20 or more per visit by 1 July 2016 just to keep afloat - a severe impost for the disadvantaged and those on low incomes.
Members also emphasised that a long term plan for a sustainable, evidence based funding of general practice is sorely needed. Investment in general practice services, which are the most cost-effective way to provide patient services to the community, would ensure that patients have access to timely, high-quality and evidence based healthcare, and reduce the strain on more expensive emergency department and hospital care now and into the future.