Medicare Benefits Schedule Freeze


If you’d thought we escaped the GP copayment debacle, think again. In a move that’s caused panic amongst the medical fraternity, the government has frozen the MBS rebate for about 5000 items for the next four years. It’s set to cause GPs a loss of about $1.3 million – or up to $29,500 a year by 2018. And while we’ve happily put to bed the $5 GP fee, it could be replaced by an $8 fee as GPs struggle to recoup losses.

The rebate for seeing a GP will be frozen at $37 per visit, while everyday expenses for doctors will continue to rise – expenses such as rents, insurance, wages and other assorted bills and fees.

MBS Freeze


It’s expected to influence private health insurers as they pass on higher premiums to customers, and specialists are expected to increase their out-of-pocket charges to compensate for the loss. And while the government has declared that GPs can charge the wealthy in order to subsidise the poor, that leaves the question – what happened to accessible health care for all? With the majority of patients seen by a GP holding either a health care concession card or being under 16 years of age (54.4%), charging the wealthy and bulk-billing the poor might not be a viable option; any co-payments charged, in all likelihood, won’t cover increasing costs. This also opens the door for GPs to charge over and above the expected $8, simply because they can.

Health minister Sussan Ley has helpfully suggested the removal of the current legislation preventing GPs from charging a co-payment and claiming from the government for patient care (that is, the government pays for GP services, or ‘bulk billing’). GPs would be able to effectively double dip, charging patients as well as the government. However even an $8 co-payment fee in this instance wouldn’t cover the shortfalls likely to be experienced by a GP in their daily practice.

While the freeze is simply an extension of the freeze introduced by the Labor government in November 2012, it is the only remaining policy of the current government and is the one set to create the most financial disturbance for both GPs and their patients. How does this affect the GP? Some practices will become unviable and, unfortunately, need to sell or dissolve. Others might be absorbed into larger corporations. But some will thrive, either with or without a co-payment, and those who pull through will need fresh blood to revive what some say will be a struggling health system.

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