31 December 2013


Proposed tax for general practice services threatens access to healthcare

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is concerned equitable access to clinically appropriate healthcare will be jeopordised following a recommendation to Government to tax patients visiting their GP.

The recommendation, proposed by the Australian Centre for Health Research in a submission to the Commission of Audit will see some Australians taxed a blanket $6 co-payment for general practice services as a means of creating Government budgetary savings.

RACGP Vice-President, Associate Professor Frank Jones, said the RACGP implores the Government to seek proper consultation with the general practice profession before accepting any proposal that will have a profound impact on the health of all Australians.

“Over the past 20 years, Medicare rebates have failed to increase in line with inflation.

“The RACGP rejects any proposal to reduce the rebate payable per general practice consultation through Medicare on the assumption that a co-payment will be introduced to cover a gap previously covered by Medicare.

 “Implementing an additional barrier to accessing healthcare services at a general practice level will only further disadvantage both the general practice profession and patients alike,” said A/Prof Jones.

General practice is one of the most efficient parts of the healthcare system. GPs see approximately 81% of the Australian population in any one year and provide 129.5 million general practice services through the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) during that time1.

“By disincentivising patients to access general practice services, it is likely there will be a shift in demand to the hospital sector where care for the same presentation is far more expensive,” said A/Prof Jones.

The RACGP supports a system that recognises the value of general practice through an appropriate fee structure, however also recognises that a substantial number of patients are impacted by the rising costs in healthcare.

“Those with the greatest healthcare needs often have the least capacity to pay for healthcare services.

“Patients are increasingly delaying seeing their GP due to financial reasons. It is known that approximately 8% of patients who needed to see a GP delayed seeing or had not seen one because of the cost2.

“Reducing the Medicare rebate for all Australians will result in poorer care delivery and health outcomes for those in greatest need, and ultimately exacerbate inequality.

“It also has the potential to worsen general practice workforce shortages in lower income areas; a concern that is already impacting the delivery of accessible and affordable healthcare to those most at need,” said A/Prof Jones.

The RACGP welcomes the opportunity to discuss the proposed $6 co-payment for general practice services and its impact on the health of the Australian population with the Government.

References

  1. Medicare Australia, General Practice Workforce Statistics 1984-2012. Viewed 13 May 2013 at http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/General+Practice+Statistics-1 
  2. Patient Experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2010 -2011. General Practitioners, Medical Specialists and, Dental Specialists. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4839.0main+features32010-11

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John Ronan

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