AMA: 2016 budget could cost patients almost $1 billion

Richard Laycock 5 May 2016

Doctors-visitBudget 2016 may be the death nail for bulk billing in Australia, the doctor's association warns.

Amongst the health policies in the 2016 federal budget, the Government announced that it would continue its Medicare rebate freeze until 2020. The move is set to save the Government somewhere in the region of $1 billion, but has been denounced by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).  "The poorest, the sickest and the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit," AMA president Professor Brian Owler said.

Why? The freeze locked in the Medicare rebate for seeing a GP at $37.

In 2013, the AMA warned that this freeze would put an untenable strain on the GPs and threaten the viability of bulk billing. The extension of this freeze to 2020 may become the straw that breaks the camel's back.

While wages and other expenses associated with running a doctor's surgery have increased, the rebate the GP receives from the government has stayed the same.

This means that doctors will be less likely to offer bulk billing services as the incentive is no longer there. The availability of Medicare bulk billing services is one of the reasons the Australian healthcare system is held in such high-esteem. Not only will these measures hit household budgets, it potentially represents an extra disincentive to people accessing healthcare.

When asked when the freeze was going to stop, Owler said that it's something that can't possibly continue. He pointed to the fact that rebate will have been in stasis for almost seven years and when you consider how the prices and value of care will have changed over that period, the freeze will have undermined the intrinsic value of the Medicare rebate for patients and doctors alike.

Additionally, the Government is looking to find further savings of $370.9 million by extending the pause on the indexation of the Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS) and the Private Health Insurance Rebate to 2021.

Where is the money in health going from the 2016 budget?

Investment areaAmount
Additional Primary Care Investment$1.5 billion
Aged Care$17.8 billion
Health$71.4 billion
Hospitals$17.9 billion
Medicare$22.7 billion
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme$10.4 billion

Picture: Shutterstock

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