GP funding dominates early media in 2014

16 Jan 2014

The media has heavily reported the proposal to the National Audit Commission for a $6 co-payment for the most common GP services and  Medibank Private’s pilot with IPN to bulk bill Medibank Private members.

While the focus on general practice is a good thing, the policy prescriptions being touted are not necessarily in the best interests of patients or GPs.

The Australian Centre for Health Research (ACHR) proposal for a $6 co-payment has been reported simplistically in the media, with little recognition given to the other ideas floated as part of the ACHR package of measures, which include a freeze on the indexation of GP MBS items.

While the concept may merit debate, it should not be used as a tool to simply prop up the Government’s bottom line. We have seen far too much of that approach in recent times, with successive Budgets making cuts to general practice.

The IPN/Medibank deal does not have the AMA support, but the AMA is keen to explore some role for private health insurers (PHI) in general practice.

PHIs are implementing programs that play an increasing role in the care of our patients, particularly those with chronic and complex disease. However, these arrangements often sideline the patient’s usual GP or are not well integrated into the patient’s overall care needs.

We can do much better - and the AMA has been talking to PHIs about this over the last 12 months. This is a debate we must remain engaged in to ensure that Government does not allow PHIs to dictate patient care or undermine the role of the usual GP.

General practice consumes a relatively small part of overall health expenditure but helps keep overall health system costs sustainable. Early intervention by GPs pays dividends through reduced downstream health costs.

Indeed, general practice can do more to ensure that Australians continue to have access to high quality, sustainable health care. However, this requires further investment rather than simplistic solutions designed to deliver short term budget savings.

To see more about what the AMA has said about these issues, read the transcript of this interview with the AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton.