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AMA recommends GPs raise fees to cover costs

The Federal Government's freeze on Medicare rebates is being blamed, with fees not scheduled to rise until 2020. The amount Medicare gives doctors is frozen, but the cost of running their practices is not. Australian Medical Association vice-president Tony Bartone says that is not fair and GPs should charge more.

"Some patients will be forced to have to look at an option other than bulk-billing because their doctor will no longer be able to provide services bulk-billed to them." The Federal Government denies GP bulk-billing rates are falling as a result of its Medicare freeze. Instead, it insists bulk-billing of GP services is at an all-time high, at 85.1 percent. But doctors claim those figures are misleading because they cover a range of Medicare item numbers. They say patients are paying more to see the doctor as a result of the freeze. Federal health minister Sussan Ley says it is up to doctors if they wish to charge more.

"AMA and others may recommend to GPs, and it depends on the business models that general practitioners are in. But, remember, in Australia, the government does not employ the doctors. We're not the National Health Service from Britain. We don't set fees for doctors. We're not the Canadian government that actually introduced price controls for doctors. We respect and we value that doctors are small businesses and they have scope to set their fees according to their wishes, their business model and their patient cohort. And I'm delighted that, in this space, we have a bulk-billing rate of 85.1 per cent."

Most doctors do bulk-bill, with Medicare reimbursing $37 to visit the doctor. Patients are paying $76 but, under the proposal, they would pay $78. And the out-of-pocket expense would go up $2, leaving patients to pay $41. Doctors argue finding the money to allow for annual increases would ensure they can keep charging the same amount to patients. Tony Bartone says it means those who need care do not pay more and doctors have enough cash to run their practices.

"We'd like to see indexation instituted back immediately. Every day the freeze remains in place is another day that patients are paying more out of pocket for their medical services or that some patients will be forced to have to look at an option other than bulk-billing because their doctor will no longer be able to provide services bulk-billed to them." Labor first introduced a freeze back in 2013, as a one-off. But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is now accusing the Government of putting pressure on the cost of health care over the past three years.

"All around the country, in Rockhampton, in Cairns, in Nowra, if you go up to the north coast of New South Wales or the outer suburbs of Melbourne, the GPs are saying, 'Bill, we don't want to charge our patients more. But Malcolm Turnbull's giving us no choice.' It's funny, Malcolm Turnbull talks about (Liberals) being the party of small business. Many GPs are small businesses. This is a Government who's anti-GPs in their policies."

The Australian Medical Association's suggested price increase starts from November 1.

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