GP Network News, Issue 13 Number 19

17 May 2013

Dr Brian Morton, Chair AMACGP

Government targets sick people to reduce budget deficit

In response to the release of the 2013-14 Budget on Tuesday, AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that the Government is forcing sick people to pay more for their health care to help address the Budget deficit by delaying indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) from 1 November 2013 to 1 July 2014.

Dr Hambleton said that the freeze on MBS indexation would rip $664.3 million out of primary health care services.

Many families will face further increases to their health care costs through the increase of the upper Medicare Safety Net threshold to $2000. At a time when many Australians are facing huge cost of living pressures, it is going to get harder for people to cover their health care costs and some people may choose to put off seeing their doctor.

The AMA welcomes funding in some key areas. However, Dr Hambleton said it is surprising that a day after the Government announced record bulk billing figures, it hands down a package that will force bulk billing rates down.

The AMA will closely examine the Budget Papers before making a comprehensive response to the overall Budget across portfolios. A particular focus will be on the Government’s changes to taxation of work-related self-education expenses, which make it harder for doctors to improve their skills to the benefit of patients.

Click here to view the full press release

Australian Medicine – 2013 Federal Budget Special Edition

The AMA has produced a special edition of Australian Medicine to highlight the outcomes and impact of the Federal Budget 2013-14.

Articles include coverage of the impact of the freeze on Medicare indexation, increased Medicare safety net thresholds, the wind down of the long-standing tax offset for medical costs, and restrictions on claiming a consult with chronic disease management item. All of which will threaten patient access to health services.

Better news includes additional funding to fight cancer and another year’s funding for the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program.

More news and analysis of the Budget including changes to hospital and PBS funding, aged care and Indigenous health initiatives are available in Australian Medicine.

Freeze on MBS rates takes advantage of GP goodwill

Earlier this week the Government confidently announced record high bulk-billing rates of 82.4 per cent ahead of its decision to freeze MBS indexation for eight months, indicating the Government is confident that GPs will simply continue to absorb the rising costs or practice.

With year on year Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) indexation well below parity with other indices such as the Labour Price Index, there is now a real disconnect between the MBS rebates and the realistic cost of providing GP services. The AMA Gaps Poster illustrates this (click here to download or call (02) 6270 5400 to order one).

The AMA encourages medical practitioners to set their own fees based on their practice cost experience and provides members with the tools and resources to do so, which are available online. Tools include a checklist for those medical practitioners who have decided to move from bulk billing to patient billing and a template letter to explain to their patients why their fee is different to the Medicare rebate.

Cap on Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program (MHNIP) remains

The Government, in this week’s 2013-14 Budget, has continued funding the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program, maintaining its current cap on service levels. This will keep services at the 2011-12 level, the same level that was set when the cap was introduced in the 2012-13 Budget.

The AMA has been advocating an increase in funding to the program, in line with the growth in overall mental health spending and to address unmet need identified in an evaluation of the program undertaken last year. The evaluation’s final report assessed the program to be both beneficial to patients and cost effective.

The Government has this week informed the AMA it is establishing an expanded Expert Reference Group to consider options for re-designing the program in a number of areas identified in the report as needing improvement. The AMA looks forward to participating in this process to achieve the best outcomes from this program.

Chief Medical Officer explores the possibility of Lyme Disease in Australia

There has been a great deal of concern and discussion recently over the possibility that Lyme disease is active in Australia. A growing number of Australian GPs are contemplating a diagnosis of Lyme disease in patients presenting with symptoms that are consistent with the disease, even though it has not been established that Australian ticks carry the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia spp.

In response to this current debate, the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, has established a Clinical Advisory Committee (CACLD) to provide advice on the evidence for Lyme disease in Australia. The Committee will also provide advice on the most appropriate ways to disseminate information to health professionals and the general public.

The CACLD will explore, in the Australian context, whether there is evidence of Borrelia spp causing illness in humans; the most appropriate laboratory diagnostic testing algorithms (best world practice) for persons who have suspected borreliosis; the most appropriate treatments for borreliosis and the requirements for further research into borreliosis.

Click here for further information about the CACLD on the federal Department of Health and Ageing website.

We welcome your comments and suggestions as well. Please tell us what you think.

In this issue:

AMA is the peak medical organisation in Australia representing the profession’s interests to Government and the wider community. Your Federal AMA General Practice Policy team can be contacted via email or by phone (02) 6270 5400. You can unsubscribe from GPNN by emailing