Just back at work after a short holiday break since being appointed Health Minister, Sussan Ley (“Lee”) today announced the scrapping of plans to reduce by $20.00 the rebate for short (less than 10 mins) GP visits.
The decision followed widespread criticism from GPs and representative bodies such as the AMA, and predictably drew accusations of a “backflip” from the government’s political opponents.
The proposed change to the Medicare rebate system, which was due to take effect on Monday 19 January, was the Abbott government’s revision to the much criticised $7.00 co-payment, which met with intense opposition and was regarded as unlikely to be endorsed by the Senate.
Similar, if not even greater, opposition was expected to face the revised scheme when the Parliament reconvenes for 2015.
The changes would have seen practitioners receiving $16.95, instead of $37.05, for Level A consultations, with the gap falling on patients to pay. The amount would have fallen to $11.95 from 1 July when cuts to rebates for longer consultations would have commenced.
Saying the proposal had been “taken off the table”, Minister Ley said she had become of “significant concerns and unintended consequences of changes to Medicare rebates.”
Blaming “misinformation” for causing “confusion” amongst patients and doctors, the Minister revealed that “wide-ranging” consultations would take place with doctors and the community aimed at reaching “sensible options” for Medicare reform.
Since last May’s Budget, the government has insisted that only significant reform would enable the sustainability of Medicare, and the nation’s health system more widely.
This argument has also been criticised, with credible analysts saying Medicare is much less of a ‘drain’ than the government claims, and that money spent on primary care helps contain costly hospital presentations and admissions.