Changes to the Medicare rebate, which take effect from Monday 19 January, may see patients pay more for GP consultations. Will you be asked to pay more?
The Medicare rebate for consultations less than 10 minutes in duration is being reduced from $37.05 to $16.95. Level B visits, as they are known, currently receive the full Medicare rebate, but in legislation pushed through by the Federal Government on 23 December 2014, they will now be subject to a rebate reduction of $20.10.
For those who are bulk billed, this change will have no effect, however, it may mean that some GPs will no longer offer a bulk-billing service. It may also result in GPs having a minimum 10-minute consultation policy, which will decrease the number of appointments available and increase waiting room times.
Those who pay for GP services will receive the lower Medicare rebate on short consultations, leaving them $20.10 out of pocket.
This change is on top of the $5 cut to all Medicare rebates for non-concessional patients that will take effect from 1 July 2015 and will result in an $11.95 rebate being paid for appointments under 10 minutes.
Indexation of Medicare rebates has also been frozen until 2018.
The changes to the rebates could however, be short lived, with Parliament returning in February and the opportunity for members of the Senate to vote for disallowance. Due to the government’s majority in the House of Representatives, the bill will pass the lower house, but will need Senate endorsement or it will face a motion of disallowance.
Three independent senators, Jacqui Lambie, Ricky Muir and Nick Xenophone, have already voiced opposition to these changes to Medicare. The support of Labor and Greens members, as well as one more crossbencher, is required to achieve the 39 votes it will take to reverse the proposed change. While the Labor cabinet has not yet met, Bill Shorten has made his feelings about the policy clear while campaigning for the Queensland election. “More Queenslanders will have to wait when they are sick and will end up going into the medical system later when they are sicker,” he said. And Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King said that “Labor has always defended Medicare”.
Read more at TheAge.com.au.
In a week when it has been revealed that Peter Dutton is ranked by GPs as the worst Health Minister in 35 years, the outlook isn’t much brighter for his replacement. A survey of 1100 GPs conducted by Australian Doctor magazine saw an overwhelming 46 per cent of those surveyed voting Mr Dutton as the worst Health Minister in living memory. For anyone who is interested, Nicola Roxon, who held the post under a Labor government from 2009 to 2011, came in second with 17 per cent of the vote. And Tony Abbott, who held the post in John Howard’s government from 2003 to 2007, came third with 13 per cent of the vote.
While you could argue that new Minister for Health, Susan Ley, won’t have to do much to be rated more highly than her predecessor, the odds are definitely stacked against her. Thrown under the proverbial bus, Susan Ley will have to try and steer through the Senate one of the least popular motions amongst GPs and their patients.
This move is designed to cover the projected savings lost with the abolition of the unpopular proposed $7 GP co-payment. The government was clearly kidding itself if it thought that this equally damaging rebate change would slide through unnoticed. Cutting $20 from the rebate received by GPs and those patients who do not qualify for bulk-billing is, quite frankly, one of the most ridiculous examples of policy on the run the that Australian public has been asked to accept.
Trying to see a GP is difficult enough as it is, and for those whose needs are simple, an appointment which is shorter than 10 minutes often fits the bill. A prescription for antibiotics, a referral renewal or a follow-up appointment for a previous diagnosis doesn’t take long, but still requires a visit to the GP. To punish GPs for facilitating such patients’ needs and patients for not needing to see a GP for more than 10 minutes is farcical.
This is simply replacing one piece of poor policy with another. So good luck Susan Ley in your first challenge in your new role. You’re going to need it.
What do you think?
Do you think the rebate reduction will result in fewer GPs offering bulk-billing, or increased wait time to see a GP? Will you have to pay more to see your GP?