Farewell Freeze – Government starts to win back goodwill

10 May 2017

AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, on Budget night welcomed the announcement of a number of positive health measures, most notably an early lifting of the freeze on Medicare patient rebates. The indexation thaw will start from 1 July 2017 with bulk billing incentives for GP consultations, and continue from 1 July 2018 with standard GP consultations and other specialist consultations, then procedures from 1 July 2019, and targeted diagnostic imaging services from 1 July 2020. The lifting of the freeze on Medicare rebates will cost the Government around $1 billion.

“The AMA would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, but we acknowledge that the three-stage process will provide GPs and other specialists with certainty and security about their practices, and will help address rising out-of-pocket costs for patients”, Dr Gannon said.

“Lifting the Medicare rebate freeze is overdue, but we welcome it.”

Dr Gannon said that the Government has also responded to AMA advocacy by: 

  • reversing proposed cuts to bulk billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology services;
  • scrapping proposed changes to the Medicare Safety Net that would have penalised vulnerable patients;
  • delaying the introduction of the Health Care Homes trial until October to allow fine-tuning of the details;
  • moving to an opt-out approach for participation in the My Health Record; and
  • recognising the importance of diagnostic imaging to clinical decision-making.

Dr Gannon said the AMA supports the Government’s measures to increase the prescribing of generic medicines, when it is safe and appropriate and discussed with the patient, and preserves doctors’ clinical and prescribing independence, with savings to be invested back into the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Dr Gannon also welcomed the Government's allocation of funding to help prevent suicide among war veterans; the expansion of the Supporting Leave for Living Organ Donors Program; measures to increase the vaccination rate; the ban on gambling ads during live sporting broadcasts before 8.30pm; and acknowledged extra funding for the Rheumatic Fever Strategy, in response to calls in the 2016 AMA Indigenous Health Report Card.

Dr Gannon said that the lifting of the Medicare freeze and the other positive measures in the Budget have come about through open discussion and engagement with the Government, and the AMA intends to build on this positive relationship with the Health Minister and the Prime Minister to achieve further benefits for patients and the health system.

Dr Gannon said that the AMA is committed to working collaboratively with the Government on:

  • the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review process;
  • an improved system of after-hours care;
  • uptake of the My Health Record;
  • the Health Care Homes concept and trial;
  • pathology sector arrangements, including approved collection centre (ACC) rents; and
  • MBS compliance.

The AMA will make further comment following examination of the complete Budget papers across portfolios.

From a GP perspective, the key Budget measures of most relevance included the MBS indexation thaw highlighted earlier, the delay to the healthcare home trial and the decision to abandon proposed changes to the definition of market rents for approved pathology collection centres in favour of strengthened compliance measures – based on existing laws.

Full media release