CHF calls for a national summit on Medicare

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) has called for a national summit to explore ways to ensure the future of Medicare following the federal government's decision to dump the controversial rebate and time descriptor changes to Level A and B general practice consultations.

Health Minister Sussan Ley today announced those changes were now “off the table” and would not proceed as planned next Monday, but she recommitted to implementing a price signal through a “modest” co-payment.

The time descriptor changes are the most prominent of the three new measures that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former health minister Peter Dutton announced in early December following the decision to drop the equally controversial $7 co-payment on GP consultations and diagnostic tests.

Ms Ley said the government was responding to concerns that had been raised about Level A and B changes, telling reporters that she had “read an awful lot over the last fortnight” and had “heard and listened”. This is despite Ms Ley issuing a statement yesterday defending the measure and criticising Labor leader Bill Shorten for opposing it.

The regulations introducing the changes would have been disallowed by the Senate when it reconvenes next month following the commitment of Labor, the Greens and senators Nick Xenophon, Jacqui Lambie, Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus to disallow them.

The two other measures announced back in December – the freezing of indexation until 2018 and the across the board cut in rebates of $5 except for concessional patients due to come into effect in July – are still planned to go ahead.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said “sanity had prevailed” in the decision, while Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said he was glad “that common sense has prevailed in getting these changes off the table”.

Dr Owler had earlier released a letter he had written to Mr Abbott arguing that the changes threatened the very viability of general practice.

“The level of anger and disbelief within the general practitioner community that your government has so little regard for the value of their services at the front line of Australian healthcare is unprecedented,” Dr Owler said.

CHF CEO Adam Stankevicius said Ms Ley needed to now sit down with representatives of all parts of the health system.

“In the meantime, the government should place a moratorium on implementing its other proposed changes to Medicare,” Mr Stankevicius said.

“After the notable failures of the government’s unilateral proposals so far to squeeze Medicare costs which have outraged consumers and doctors, the government is starting to recognise it is time to seek the views of all interested parties before changing Medicare.

“As the government is well aware, Australians view Medicare as an intrinsic social asset that a government interferes with at its peril. If we are going to have sensible changes to the health system, it will require evidence-based, rational debate.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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