GP Network News, Issue 13 Number 30

2 Aug 2013

Dr Steve Hambleton, AMA President

'Cap' deferral will allow proper consultation on education expenses

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said today’s wise decision by the Government to defer the introduction of the proposed $2000 cap on work-related self-education expenses until July 2015 would allow proper informed discussion that should lead to the scrapping of the cap by the next Government.

Treasurer Chris Bowen announced the cap deferral as part of the Government’s Economic Statement.

Dr Hambleton said the AMA and the Scrap the Cap Alliance have been lobbying against the proposed cap since former Treasurer, Wayne Swan, released the ill-informed policy back in April.

"The education expenses cap was a bad policy in April this year and it will still be a bad policy in July 2015 – but we now have more time to convince the next Government to scrap the cap.

"The AMA is pleased that the cap has been deferred, but we vow to continue our campaign to have this dumb policy scrapped altogether," Dr Hambleton said.
Full media release.

Scrap the cap alliance grows in numbers and determination

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said this week that the Scrap The Cap Alliance - which is calling on the Government to dump plans to impose a $2000 cap on work-related self-education expenses - is growing in numbers and in its determination to make the education cap an election issue.

Representatives of more than 30 organisations of the now 75-member Alliance met in Canberra on Tuesday this week to brief advisers from Treasurer Chris Bowen’s office on the political sensitivity of the cap, and to plan the next steps in the strategy to have the policy overturned.

Dr Hambleton said the groups agreed to increase their efforts to mobilise their members and their constituencies to individually lobby their local MPs to get the message across that this bad policy would cause great damage in the community.

"The Government has to realise that the education cap will hit more than 1.6 million dedicated professionals who provide important services in their communities - and every one of those more than 1.6 million professionals has a vote at this election," Dr Hambleton said.

Full media release.

Greens show leadership on MBS indexation

Dr Hambleton congratulated the Australian Greens this week on showing health policy leadership with their policy to restore Medicare Benefits Schedule indexation and return more than $600 million in Medicare funding.

Dr Hambleton said that the Greens, through Dr Di Natale, understood clearly the negative impacts of the Government’s Budget health decisions and displayed great empathy with the health needs of Australian families.

"The Greens have shown they have a long-term view about the sustainability of the health care system and the ability of families to get quality primary health care where and when they need it. The AMA calls on the Government and the Opposition to match the commitment from the Greens," Dr Hambleton said.

Full media release.

Tobacco Tax Rise Another Blow to Killer Habit

The AMA welcomes the Government’s announcement of a rise in tobacco excise over the next four years.

Dr Hambleton, said that smoking is a killer habit and every effort must be made to encourage smokers to quit and discourage people, especially young people, from taking up smoking. Smoking is the only legal drug that kills half its users when used as the manufacturer intended. Thirty per cent of all cancers can be linked to tobacco. Smoking leads to respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, renal disease, and eye disease. It is bad for unborn babies, it increases miscarriage rates, it increases still birth rates, it is linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and low birth weight, and it is a risk factor in osteoporosis. According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills nearly six million people each year.

Dr Hambleton added, tobacco plain packaging legislation made Australia the world leader in the war against smoking. The move to make tobacco products more expensive - which is a proven disincentive - will enhance that reputation.

"The Government must ensure that a significant proportion of the proceeds from the excise increase is invested in health. It is important that Australia continues to show leadership to the rest of the world, especially countries where smoking rates remain high, about how to introduce practical public health initiatives that save lives," Dr Hambleton said.

Full media release.

Make health star label system mandatory for recalcitrant food industry

Dr Hambleton, said this week that the Federal and State Governments should make health star ratings for packaged food mandatory following the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) withdrawal of its support for the voluntary health star rating system, which was adopted by Food and Health Ministers last month after years of development.

"It is irresponsible for the food industry to walk away from the new system at this late stage," Dr Hambleton said.

Dr Hambleton said more and more people are at high risk of serious disease and premature death from the obesity epidemic in Australia. He added that consumers must be empowered to identify and choose healthy food, and research shows that the health star rating system is an easier and more effective way to improve consumer choices.

Full media release.

AMA meets DoHA to discuss so called "double dipping"

AMA representatives met with the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) on Wednesday this week to raise concerns about the impact on patient care of the Government’s intention to save $119.6 million over four years, from 1 November 2014, by banning GPs from claiming MBS rebates for both a GP consultation and a Chronic Disease Management item provided to the same patient on the same day.

The AMA has expressed concern that this blanket solution to alleged double dipping will come at the expense of legitimate care for chronic conditions or acute presentations that may otherwise go untreated.

The AMACGP Executive will be considering this matter further at their next meeting.

The AMA has also highlighted the double-claiming issue in its election document Key Health Issues for 2013 Federal Election which was launched on 17 July 2012 as part of AMA Family Doctor Week 2013.

Can I prescribe …?

Most doctors know what the rules are for prescribing medicines in Australia. Or do they? AMA members frequently ask whether they are able to prescribe in certain circumstances. It is understandable that doctors are uncertain, because there is no simple answer.

Prescribing in Australia is regulated by a range of laws. For a medicine to be prescribed in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) must approve it for sale. However, each State and Territory has its own laws regulating the prescription of medicines. These laws determine who can prescribe, which medicines, in what circumstances, in what manner and for what purpose. In addition, specific conditions must be met to prescribe certain classes of medicines, such as some with Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 classifications.

Doctors must also comply with requirements and restrictions under Commonwealth laws in order to prescribe under the PBS. Finally, all doctors are bound by the Medical Board of Australia’s code of practice - Good Medical Practice - as a condition of their registration to practice in Australia.

Read more about prescribing rules in the latest edition of Australian Medicine. The AMA’s website also maintains a summary of prescribing rules with links to other sources.

Australian Medicine

In the latest edition of Australian Medicine, released on Monday this week, Dr Brian Morton, Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice, discusses the growing erosion of the Medicare rebate and other Budget measures that are adversely affecting general practices and patients. Read it here.

Also covered in this edition is the AMA’s public challenge to the major parties to have a contest on the health issues that really matter to Australians. There are also reports on: developments in the fight against the tax cap; prescription authorization hang-ups; the hike in MBA registration fees; the value of cholesterol-lowering medication in protecting against heart attacks and strokes; as well as comprehensive coverage of other medical news and views in your Australian Medicine.

MJA Articles of Interest

The Medical Journal of Australia, 22 July 2013, contains a number of articles that may be of interest to GPs. These topics include: screening for lung cancer; improving access to new (and old) antibiotics in Australia; regulation and the prevention agenda; and international treatment guidelines for anaemia in chronic kidney disease.

MJA online.

Medicare News

The July issue of Medicare’s online newsletter for GPs, titled Forum, is out now. It covers Budget initiatives that might affect your patients, changes to incentive payments for telehealth from 1 July 2013, a new-look Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, and a new app to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

MERS coronavirus situation update 1 August 2103

One new laboratory confirmed case reported to the WHO.

As of 29 July 2013, the WHO had received reports of 91 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, including 46 deaths. All cases have had a history of residence in or travel to the Middle East, or contact with travelers returning from these areas. There have been no cases in Australia.

Most patients have presented with or later developed severe acute respiratory symptoms. Mild flu-like illnesses, asymptomatic cases and atypical presentations have also been reported.

Cases with severe symptoms have been most commonly reported in older and middle-aged males with underlying conditions.

Person-to-person transmission of the virus has occurred in clusters, including healthcare settings (with multiple generations of transmission), families and in a workplace.

Testing should be considered for:

  1. Individuals with pneumonia or pneumonitis and history of travel to, or residence in, the Arabian Peninsula, in the 14 days before illness onset:
    • Transiting through an international airport (<24 hours stay, remaining within the airport) on the Arabian Peninsula is not considered to be risk factor for infection.
    • Countries in the Arabian Peninsula and immediate surrounding areas may be defined as Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.
  2. Individuals with pneumonia or pneumonitis and history of contact with those in point 1 above in the 14 days before illness onset.
  3. Health care workers with pneumonia, who have been caring for patients with severe acute respiratory infections, particularly patients requiring intensive care, without regard to place of residence or history of travel, where another cause has not been confirmed.

Clinicians should be aware of atypical non-respiratory presentations in immunocompromised patients but testing for MERS-CoV should be performed in patients with radiological evidence of pneumonitis with the appropriate travel/contact history.

More information.

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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