MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The head of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Brian Owler says the Government should go back to square one on health policy.
He's seized the moment, requesting a meeting with the Prime Minister after his declaration yesterday that he wouldn't persevere with a Medicare co-payment unless doctors agreed to it.
Mr Abbott's accepted that in any dispute between a politician and a doctor, the doctor normally wins because "they have the best interests of their patients at heart".
AMA President, Associate Professor Brian Owler, told political reporter Alexandra Kirk if good government starts today, then good health policy should start today too.
BRIAN OWLER: It was the Prime Minister that announced in December the issues around the $5 cut to the Medicare rebate, as well as the freeze to indexation.
And while the Prime Minister has said that no new proposals will go ahead without the support of the medical profession, we would like to see these changes taken off the table so that we can get on with having more constructive discussions with the Government about how to make our health system better.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you're asking him to go back to square one?
BRIAN OWLER: Well I think that's what we need to do. It is difficult when we have very substantial changes still hanging over the head of GPs and their patients. We would like to have that situation clarified.
And look, at the end of the day, we're here to help the Government. We want to come up with good policies. And we're very willing to participate in the discussions, as are many other health groups. And I'm sure that we will come up with better ways to both fund general practice, but also to deliver care to get quality outcomes.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, you clearly have the Prime Minister's full attention now and are in a strong bargaining position. So do you want a co-payment?
BRIAN OWLER: No, not necessarily. I think if we were going to have a co-payment we put forward an alternative policy which actually protected vulnerable patients and invested in general practice.
It's not about whether there was a co-payment or not. It is about actually how we get better funding for general practice to make sure that we keep people well in the community and out of expensive hospital care.
Now there are some patients that can afford to contribute to the cost of their medical care. And where they can do that without putting up barriers to accessing general practice, then I think that that's not an unreasonable thing to do.
And we already have situations where people are privately billed and there may be ways of encouraging people to do more than that, rather than just relying on the Medicare rebate because I don't think the future of general practice looks very bright if that's the path that we go down.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: So no cut to the Medicare rebate?
BRIAN OWLER: Absolutely, and no freeze to the indexation. And I think the freeze to the indexation out to 2018 has effects not only for general practice, but also for patients seeing specialists as well, particularly in terms of their out-of-pocket expenses.
And at the end of the day if this freeze takes place then the Medicare rebate, which is the patients' rebate, there's no resemblance either to the cost of providing care or the value of the services that are being provided.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: AMA President Brian Owler speaking with Alexandra Kirk.
10 February 2015
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