Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones have today warned that the Abbott Government’s planned Medicare rebate freeze could cost patients up to $8.40 more for a visit to the Doctor by 2018.
Last month Tony Abbott walked away from his unpopular $5 GP Tax, though the Government remains committed to freezing Medicare rebates - which is the amount that Doctors can claim for each patient - until 2018. Health Minister, Susan Ley, also ominously stated that the “policy intent” behind the GP Tax remained “sound”.
A study recently released in the highly respected Medical Journal of Australia has warned that the rebate freeze could actually cost patients more than the GP Tax.
Even though the rebate reduction has been retracted, the freeze will have greater impact with time — nearly double the amount of the rebate reduction by 2017–18. For economic reasons, the freeze may still force GPs who currently bulk bill to charge copayments.
“The Cost of Freezing General Practice”, Medical Journal of Australia, 2015
Sharon Bird said that this explained some evasive answers Ms Ley provided several weeks ago after a clearly panicked Prime Minister supposedly walked away from the GP Tax.
“When Minister Ley was asked at a press conference on 3 March this year whether the four year rebate freeze would achieve the same objective as the GP Tax over time she said that it was not something that she was prepared to answer.
“Tony Abbott and Susan Ley are just relying on a different tool to realise the same existing goal – discouraging people from seeing their Doctor and compromising the future of Medicare.”
Stephen Jones said that the rebate freeze would hurt those who could least afford it the most.
“The researchers from the University of Sydney have warned that the freeze will have a ‘greater impact on practices that serve socio-economically disadvantaged populations’.
“What this means is that poorer people will suffer the most; Doctors may be forced to charge a fee to patients who had previously been bulk-billed.
“The rebate freeze will have a disproportionate impact on rural and regional areas where bulk billing rates are lower, there are higher rates of chronic disease and difficulties accessing adequate healthcare.”