The List has been published every year since 1973 (with the exception of 1978) and originates from the establishment of the Gorton Government's medical benefits scheme in 1970.

The Commonwealth Government was empowered to make laws regarding "the provision of maternity allowances, widows' pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorise any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances" by a Constitutional alteration in 1946 (Social Services Act 1946). This clause was approved in a referendum, and became Section 51 (xxiiiA) of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.

In 1969, the Commonwealth Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance (the Nimmo Committee) recommended that the Government determine the most common fees being charged for medical services in each State by each specialty and in general practice, to facilitate the development of medical benefits tables for each State. These tables underlay the so-called "Gorton Scheme" for providing medical insurance benefits to Australian citizens.

In May 1969 the Federal Assembly of the AMA adopted the following resolution:

"That Federal Assembly approves of the concept of a list of 'most common fees' in private practice, both general and specialist, to provide a guide for the determination of medical benefits, provided that it be subject to periodic review, it be used for information only, it will not constitute a schedule of fees, and it is recognised that it cannot be a precise indication of the fees which individual doctors may decide to charge."

Despite the importance the AMA attached to the periodic updating of the fees, the medical benefits scheme, with a schedule based on the "common fees", came into effect on 1 July, 1970, with no agreement on a mechanism for updating fees.

Because of the Government's reluctance to accept an appropriate mechanism for updating the overall level of fees, the AMA in 1972 decided to prepare a List of Medical Services and Fees. The List became effective on 1 July, 1973.

The AMA took the view that the fees in the List were "appropriate fees on which to base medical benefits". However, the Government of the day initially rejected the List, establishing a Medical Fees Tribunal to determine fees for medical benefits purposes. After six months of public hearings, the tribunal, which had adopted the List as a starting point, endorsed the items in the List and determined significantly increased fees for most procedures.