Saving Medicare: Labor wants a tweak, GPs seek funds injection

Font Size:

Outspoken shadow health minister Chris Bowen wants to tweak Medicare to ensure doctors are paid to stay in touch with chronically ill patients. However, general practitioners say a funds injection would yield billions of dollars of benefits.

Mr Bowen believes the health system can be improved without big spending increases, an about-face from the expenditure promised before Labor’s failed election campaign in 2019.

“Big spending in big-spending portfolios (led to) a lot of the tax measures we had to do last time,” he said.

He believes those tax measures were unpopular and gave the Liberal party electoral leverage.

Mr Bowen told The Australian a Labor government would ‘refresh’ Medicare to reward doctors who ensure chronically ill patients “get the care they need”.

“Nothing has been done to systematically change Medicare to bring it up to speed with the technological abilities that we have now, that were unthinkable in 1984,” he said.

“For most people, your GP is still remunerated episodically, so you go to the doctor and the doctor is remunerated for seeing you.

“But for many members of the community, they need something else. When they see their doctor, they need a doctor to sit down for a long consultation and a good chat about their health.

“And for the doctor then to coordinate other healthcare professionals to help that person back. Whether it is an exercise physiologist, a dietitian, a physiotherapist, a psychologist.

“That will take a lot of work from a doctor. And with a few exceptions of pilot programs, Medicare doesn’t really cater for that properly.”

Mr Bowen said doctors should be paid properly for moving patients to health plans if they pick up more serious ailments when presenting for simpler conditions. He also wants them paid for contacting patients to make sure they are following their health plans.

“A patient turns up, she is 50, morbidly obese, clearly diabetic or pre-diabetic, exhibiting signs of depression,” he said. “When she has cut herself, I (a doctor) shouldn’t just fix up her cut, I should really be spending whatever time it takes to get her on a healthcare plan, getting her a senior dietitian, getting her a senior psychologist, setting up a plan where allied healthcare professionals can report back to me on progress. All that is going to take time, which Medicare is not going to pay. So, we really need to move to a system, in my view, that reflects that.”

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) commissioned an economic report from PwC Australia looking at what benefits a relatively modest addition of $1 billion funding for primary care would offer Australia.

The report found that re-allocation of funds “would likely result in a much greater suite of combined benefits than any resulting loss to reduced expenditure on hospitals”.

PwC Australia predicted benefits of $1 billion in 2021, at least $5.6 billion over the next five years and potential benefits of up to $24.8 billion over five years.

It was estimated that the extra expenditure would provide a gain of 520,000 quality adjusted life years due to earlier and better access to healthcare.

Nine reported that benefits outlined in the report included “$773 million saved from preventable hospital admission, readmission or emergency department presentations and $250 million in savings from workforce productivity”.

The West is reporting that Australians have used free Medicare services extensively during the COVID-19 pandemic, “pushing bulk billing to a record high”. In the 12 months to September, the bulk billing rate for GP services was 88.7 per cent, 2.6 per cent higher than a year earlier.

“Almost nine out of 10 visits to the doctor nationwide were provided at no cost to the patient.

“Temporary changes to Medicare during the pandemic, such as GP telehealth services to prevent the spend of the virus, were a factor behind the surge in bulk billing.”

Conversely, Nine reports that many people delayed seeing their GP for cancer screening and chronic health condition checks.

RACGP president Dr Karen Price says Australians need to catch up on these procedures or 2021 will be “the year of gaps”.

“There will certainly be people who have delayed presentations of things that they probably shouldn’t delay,” she said.

“I think you’ll find we’ve missed a lot, and we’ll be catching up a lot.”

Dr Price says breast cancer screening numbers have dropped and she expects similar reductions for other cancers, while regular check-ups and preventative care have also reduced.

“Monitoring people’s kidney disease, monitoring their blood pressure, monitoring their cardiovascular risks, and checking in with those sorts of things are also likely to be revealed in the next 12 months,” she said.

Dr Price said general practitioners need more funding to deal with the COVID-19 lag and to prevent unnecessary hospitalisations.

“Progressively there’s been a defunding of Medicare, and Medicare primarily funds general practice,” she said.

“That’s been a concern because that means that patients are losing their ability to purchase general practice services.”

Does Medicare need a refresh? Should Australia spend more on Medicare? What aspects of Medicare frustrate you?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


Proposal to give patients more say in what they pay their GPs

Provocative plan shows people would pay more for shorter waiting times, longer consults

What health support can you get if you have a chronic condition?

Can private health cover improve quality of life for those with chronic conditions?

Written by Will Brodie


Total Comments: 0



    continue reading


    Small bedroom tips to maximise space and style

    For many of us, house space is a fiercely contested commodity, and you need to squeeze the most out of...


    Aussies much more willing to be vaccinated than Americans

    The United States has had nearly as many COVID-19 cases as Australia has people. More than 400,000 have died of...


    Goldie Hawn at 75: The Hollywood star's fashion and beauty evolution

    Goldie Hawn, one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, is famous as much for her acting talents as she is for...


    US still reels from the deadly consequences of 'alternative facts'

    Jennifer S. Hunt, Australian National University Every four years on January 20, the US exercises a key tenet of democratic...


    Tennis stars call Australian Open quarantine 'insane' and like prison

    Entitled, pampered, whingers. Elite sports professionals victims of the greatest overreaction to COVID-19 in the world. Those are the poles...

    Finance News

    RBA reveals why retirees have to bear the brunt of low interest rates

    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) knows that the negative consequences of low interest rates disproportionately affect retirees, but believes...


    Blood pressure medication helps even the frailest seniors live longer

    Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed helps seniors aged 65 and over people live longer. And the healthiest older people...

    Estate planning & wills

    Common mistakes when writing your will

    It can be daunting and even overwhelming at times, but writing your will is an essential part of planning for...