30 August 2023

Emergency meeting of ACT GPs condemns government’s ‘patient tax’

An emergency meeting of Canberra’s general practitioners (GPs), held last night, has unanimously condemned the ACT Government’s decision to impose their new patient tax.

The meeting, organised by AMA ACT and RACGP and attended by GPs and practice representatives from across Canberra, hit back at the ACT Government, leaving little doubt that GPs will be forced to pass the tax on to patients.

Dr Kerrie Aust, AMA ACT President-Elect and a GP in Waniassa was at the meeting last night, and said, “It was attended by practices and GPs representing more than 50% of Canberra’s patients and they made it clear, the ACT Government doesn’t understand how general practice works, and the new patient tax will need to be passed through to patients.

“The only practical alternative to avoid this happening, is for general practices in the ACT to be exempt from the new tax.”

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins echoed the call for an exemption, saying, “Let’s not forget general practices already pay payroll tax on their employees, including receptionists, GPs in training and nurses. The ACT Government’s new tax has not previously applied to GPs because most work under independent agreements, leasing rooms and services from a practice owner and working independently.

“What’s also clear is that the ACT Government doesn’t understand how bulk billing works. Their exemption from the new patient tax for practices that bulk bill 65% of patients is flawed. It’s almost certain to fail at its first test with very few practices able to take it up and remain viable. If this happens, it will be devastating for the patients and communities that lose their GPs.

“Cherry picking bulk billing statistics from the COVID-era when patients were bulk billed for both receiving COVID vaccinations and using telehealth to see their GP, is no way to run health policy.

“The ACT Government needs to pay more attention to the fact that bulk billing rates for ACT GP visits dropped from 71% in 2021-22 to 53% in 2022-23 when the COVID-era bulk billed telehealth and vaccination arrangements ceased.”

Dr Aust said: “GPs tell us that the new patient tax will drive bulk billing rates lower. Neither GPs nor their patients want this to happen, but unintended consequences often occur when Governments don’t understand how general practice works. Our concern is that both GPs and their patients now face this situation with the ACT Government.”

“I’m equally sure that the ACT Government’s move will not increase bulk billing in the ACT, it will have quite the opposite effect. Canberra is one of the most expensive cities to run a GP practice, and practices run on very thin margins, and we know the vast majority will be forced to pass this extra tax on to patients. This is the last thing people need in a cost-of-living crisis; it will put more pressure on the territory’s hospitals and cost the government much more in the long run.”   

Both Dr Higgins and Dr Aust agreed, “It’s past time the ACT Government and GPs got back round the table, did the modelling, worked this through and allowed GPs to get back to what they do best – delivering high quality patient care to Canberrans.”

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