by LOLITA FARMER, OAM,
Lawyer, NSW Migration Agent
The $7 Medicare co-payment measure announced in the 2014- 15 Budget will no longer proceed.
The Government will instead implement a package of measures that will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.
The Government has listened to the views of the community.
This new package ensures the Government can make Medicare sustainable, improve the quality of care for patients and continue its repair of the Budget.
The Medicare rebate paid to doctors for some consultations will be reduced by $5 and the troublesome issue of ‘six minute medicine’ will be addressed by encouraging doctors to spend more time with patients.
Optional co-payment and protection for patients
A new optional co-payment will be introduced for GP services with additional protections for patients.
The Government will not impose a co-payment on GP services provided to pensioners, C o m m o n w e a l t h concession card holders, all children under the age of 16, veterans funded through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, attendances at residential aged care facilities and pathology and diagnostic imaging services.
Incentives paid to doctors to encourage them to bulk bill concession card holders and children under the age of 16 will also remain.
Medicare rebates for common GP consultations will be reduced by $5 for non-concessional patients aged 16 and over from 1 July 2015.
Doctors may choose to recoup the $5 rebate reduction through an optional co-payment or continue to bulk bill non-concessional patients over the age of 16.
Doctors will be under no obligation to charge the co-payment and this decision will be entirely at their discretion.
Improving patient outcomes by tackling ‘six minute medicine’
In a further move to streamline Medicare and improve quality outcomes, the Government will make changes to standard GP consultation items which currently provide the same Medicare rebate for a six minute consultation as for a 19 minute consultation.
This change will ensure that Medicare expenditure more accurately reflects the time a GP spends with a patient.
It encourages a shift away from ‘six minute medicine’ so that appropriate, comprehensive care is better rewarded over patient throughout.
Additionally Medicare fees for all services provided by GPs, medical specialists, allied health practitioners, optometrists and others will remain at their current level until July 2018.
Making Medicare Sustainable and the Medical Research Future Fund
The Government is committed to taking these prudent measures to protect Medicare.
Medicare will not survive in the long term without changes to make it sustainable.
In the last decade spending on Medicare has more than doubled from $8 billion in 2004 to $20 billion today, yet we raise only $10 billion from the Medicare levy. Spending is projected to climb to $34 billion in the next decade to 2024.
In the last year alone, 275 million services were provided free to patients. That’s three out of every four Medicare services being bulk billed.
These changes will contribute more than $3 billion to the Medical Research Future Fund which will fund the research needed to find cures to the health problems of today.
In six years the returns from the MRFF will provide a billion dollars to be invested in medical research annually – doubling our national funding commitments to researchers.