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article imageMedicare Copay may hurt medical practices

By Nicole Weddington     Jun 3, 2014 in Health
Center of attention in a federal budget brawl, the introduction of a $7 Medicare co-payment has brought doctors up in arms, stating the co-pay will threaten not only their business model, but survival of medical practices.
Since the federal budget has come into discussion, along with the co-pay, medical practices nationwide have tried to surmise the impact this change will have on practices of any kind.
Associate Professor Brian Owler, who is also the Australian Medical Association’s president, said doctors are not against the $7 co-pay. Rather, they are highly concerned with the ensuing cut of $5 in the Medicare rebate and changes to incentive payments, both bringing problems for doctors who treat bulk-billed patients or patients with chronic diseases. Those patients may be paying up to $13 more per visit with the proposed changes.
He states, “instead of the government being the one that is reducing red tape, the government is doing exactly the opposite” to the ¬medical profession.
Health Minister Peter Dutton maintains that the bulk billing system will stay intact and will remain the safety net it was originally designed to be. He also added that market competition will iron out bulk billing issues through free enterprise.
Doctors argue that a shift in payments will leave them heavily penalised every time they bulk-bill a patient. They do not see the picture painted by the government, who assures that they will see a “windfall” of patients and income from the new co-payment.
Dr Owler said “doctors’ practices cannot survive by bulk billing under this sort of scheme.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Department of Health officials testified before a Senate committee stating the complaints from doctors is overplayed and without credence.
Richard Bartlett, First assistant secretary, stated that 89 percent of doctors have already billed some of their patients, which means significant changes to collect the $7 co-pay would not be necessary. The overhead of billing is nothing new.
“There aren’t that many doctors who don’t have any facilities in place,” Dr Bartlett said.
“Even in areas with high bulk billing rates, patient billing occurs.”
The department did state that a defined model has not been presented on patient behavior to a $5 increase in co-payments on subsidised medicines, or the effect cuts will have in public hospital funding.
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