GPs ‘relieved’ by backdown

Gippsland doctors have expressed relief at the Federal Government’s back-down on “unfair” Medicare changes that were meant to come into effect today.

Health Minister Sussan Ley announced on Thursday the government would take a measure “off the table” that would have seen general practitioners receive about $20 less in rebates for consultations that last less than 10 minutes.

Ms Ley said she became aware of “significant concerns and unintended consequences” and halted the proposal, but said it remained critical changes were implemented “to ensure quality care for Australians and a secure future for Medicare”.

“I’m announcing today my strong commitment to undertake wide-ranging consultation on the ground with doctors and the community across the country in order to come up with sensible options to deliver appropriate Medicare reform,” she said on Thursday.

Her decision comes after GPs across the country, including Tanjil Place Medical’s Dr Robert Birks, warned the changes would force clinics to push the costs on to patients or cut services.

Dr Birks said he and other Gippsland doctors were “greatly relieved” the changes, which were announced in December, would be shelved and discussions about alternative money-saving measures could begin.

“It’s quite promising to see the health minister commit to consult widely with the health sector,” Dr Birks said.

“I think the whole thing reeked of a lack of consultation.

“Many of these issues could have been avoided.”

While Yarragon Medical Clinic Doctor Malcolm McKelvie also welcomed the news, he said other concerns remained.

“I would say (the decision) is a welcome relief for our patients… but it still leaves the freeze on indexation of Medicare rebates until 2018 that we have to deal with and it still leaves us with the $5 reduction in rebate amounts (from 1 July),” Dr McKelvie said.

He suggested the government could find savings in measures that did not target GPs.

“I think that anyone who had a look through the Medicare schedule would see that there’s a relative under funding of consultative versus procedural medicine,” Dr McKelvie said.

The government said the change to make shorter consultations worth less money to doctors was designed to disincentivise “six-minute medicine” that some clinics practiced, and this was a problem it still wanted to address.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said he had lobbied Ms Ley on behalf of local GPs since the proposal was announced in December.

Mr Chester said he would write to Gippsland GPs seeking their advice on ways to find savings in health expenditure.