From 1st June, 2016
By now, most people will have heard the fuss over the frozen Medicare Rebates announced in the recent Federal Budget. Due to the upcoming Federal Election the issue has received a lot of publicity. It must seem rather confusing to many.
I will try to explain the issues as best I can. The Medicare Rebate refers to the amount of money that a patient receives back from Medicare if they are billed privately when they visit a doctor. If the consultation is bulk billed, then the doctor agrees to accept the same amount from Medicare as full settlement of the account. The most common item number used is a “Level B Consultation”. That attracts a rebate of $37.05.
Over two years ago, the Federal Government froze the rebate. For bulk billed visits, that means there has been no fee increase for over two years. As all should realise, the costs of running a business have not been fixed. Staff wages have increased, as have electricity and phone charges, plus rents, insurances and the price of consumables.
The decision by the Federal Government to extend the Rebate Freeze for a further five years will have severe consequences for all GP’s. It would force many to close, or at the very least put off staff, and cut consultations down to 5-10 minutes maximum. The quality of care available would drop significantly. I would hate to see that happen.
At Beach Street Family Practice, all doctors, nurses and staff take great pride in providing the best possible care to our patients. We value the long term relationships that we have developed with many of our patients over the years. In lots of ways, they are our family! We want to be able to still provide them with a capable efficient “Medical Home”.
A good illustration of this commitment to our patients and the community of Woolgoolga, is the nearly completed new Surgery at 51 Beach Street, right next door to our current Surgery site. This wonderful new building will allow us to bring in several more GP’s to better address the healthy needs of our town and district. We may not be able to keep them if they can’t earn a living with their experience and ability. Some of our older doctors may simply decide that it’s no longer possible to continue working in such circumstances, and bring forward their retirements. We need to keep them at work for the good of the town!
Approximately 80% of our consultations have been bulk billed in recent years. We cannot sustain that level and must move to get that rate as low as possible. We want to continue to provide good medical care to our most disadvantaged patients. We also want those patients who can afford to make a contribution to their health care to do so. Without that, services will decline, waiting times will increase and we may lose some of our medical workforce. We would be forced to put off staff, something which I would hate to see happen!
As before, billing decisions will still remain with the doctor. However, we will not be able to agree to discount our fees in the way that we have for a number of years. Do supermarkets, petrol stations, and other shops discount their charges in this way? Would you expect to receive a 40% discount when making purchases?
It is important that we make these changes as soon as possible. The Rebate Freeze is effectively a GP Co-Payment by stealth. Even if Labor were to win the election, there is no guarantee that rebates would rise sufficiently to address the economic crisis that we now face. The Future of Traditional General Practice is at stake. Your health care is our reason for being here. To do the job properly we need to raise our fees and reduce bulk billing drastically. The alternative is to provide a no frills, cut to the bone, impersonal corporatized service where the patients are just numbers and diseases. That won’t happen on my watch! These changes are essential to securing the future of your General Practice.
Very soon we will provide you all with details of how the changes will affect you individually. I wanted this first report to set the scene and explain why we have no choice now but to make these changes now.
John Kramer MB BS FRACGP FACRRM
Proud GP in Woolgoolga 1981-2016(and I want to stay for a few more years yet!)