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  • Health professionals applaud dead co-payment

    Author: Karen Keast

Nurses, midwives and GPs have welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to shelve the embattled GP co-payment.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) federal secretary Lee Thomas said nurses and midwives have waged a tireless campaign against the GP tax, which signalled the end of Medicare.

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“From the start, we all knew it was flawed policy that would hurt all Australians, particularly families, the elderly and those who are some of the most vulnerable in our communities, ultimately resulting in the dismantling of Australia’s system of universal health care,” she said in a statement.

“The ANMF warned Mr Abbott that a GP tax would merely shift health costs on to individual patients at a time when Australians suffer some of the highest out of pocket health costs in the OECD.

“We have always maintained that Australians should have access to quality health care when they need it, where they need it.

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“It shouldn’t be available to those who have the money to pay for it, otherwise we will end up with an Americanised two-tiered health system, where you only get treatment if you can afford to pay for it.”

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Associate Professor Brian Owler said the so-called optional $5 co-payment was finally “dead and buried”.

But Assoc. Professor Owler said the freeze to indexation, which will extend to 2018, poses a concern to general practice and could impact on the employment of practice nurses.

“The costs of staff, their lease, their indemnity are all increasing over time, so if you freeze the rebate it means that there is less money to employ practice nurses,” he said.

“It makes it more difficult for GPs to do the sort of quality general practice that we expect and need in this country, and…the only way that is to either have shorter consultation times, which is something that doctors don’t want to do, or you increase the rate of private billing.

“So that is a risk for the future and I think that would be an issue also for practices in disadvantaged areas where private billing may not be an option.”

After six weeks of consultation with industry stakeholders, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced the government’s proposed co-payment and the associated $5 cut to the rebate “do not have broad support and will not proceed”.

Ms Ley said she will continue to consult on short, medium and long-term policy options in a bid to support efficient high quality care and treatment.

“This is necessary with government expenditure on Medicare doubling from about $8 billion to $20 billion over the past decade despite the proportion of Medicare spending covered by the Medicare levy falling backwards from about 67 per cent to 54 per cent over that same period,” she said.

“To ensure we protect Medicare for the long term, the government will be proceeding with its pause on indexation of Medicare rebates for GP and non-GP items while we work with the profession to develop future policies.

“I look forward to having more to say about this important policy area as my national consultations continue.”

Ms Thomas said the Health Minister has so far refused to meet with the ANMF.

“Nurses and midwives along with other health groups can give the government the expert information and direction they need to ensure a sustainable, quality health system for all Australians,” she said.

“The Minister must commence real consultation as a matter of urgency.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords