The Prime Minister and outgoing Federal Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, announced their vision for "A Strong and Sustainable Medicare" on 9 December 2014. The new package is designed to improve the quality of care for patients while significantly reducing government funding for GP services.
By increasing the minimum length of a standard consultation from 6 to 10 minutes the program will save Medicare an estimated $400 million per year. The rebate will also be reduced by $5 for adults. However, the government has listened to the views of the community and concession card holders will be exempt. GPs will be able to charge a $5 co-payment to those who do not have a concession card, in compensation for the reduced rebate. Further savings will be achieved by freezing medical rebates for 4 years.
The government is confident these measures will significantly reduce the rate of bulk billing and consultations for frivolous concerns. These effects will be most felt in metropolitan areas where universal bulk billing is common and patients are more sensitive to price signals.
The rebate changes will take effect from 1 July 2015, although the changes to the length of the minimum time for a standard consultation will start in mid January.
Some of the savings will be invested in a Medical Research Future Fund. In 10 years there will be enough money to support medical research on an ongoing basis. This will be welcomed by the scientific community that has had its budget slashed to a historic low and will allow Australia to maintain its position in research and development ahead of Greece and the Slovak republic.