The federal government’s plan to continue the Medicare rebate freeze for another two years is a short-sighted way of addressing budgetary issues and makes no economic sense when compared to the much higher costs of the impacts of unchecked chronic disease on the community, doctors say.
Chairwoman of the Hunter General Practitioners Association, Hamilton GP Dr Fiona Van Leeuwen, said governments on both sides of politics have been heading in the same direction for a long time.
“Our main concern is that freezing the Medicare rebate is just an acknowledgement by the current government that general practice care in Australia is rushing head-long into a user pays system,” she said.
“General practice care is recognised globally as being the most efficient way to implement preventive and acute large-scale population health care and there’s been a lot of discussion about that but unfortunately this budget doesn’t properly support general practice systems to provide those things.”
GPs provide increasingly complex, but vital preventive health care such as screening for cancer and chronic disease risk factors for diseases like diabetes and heart diseases, she said.
“There’s an enormous focus these days on chronic disease management. It’s complex, it requires multiple visits and it’s ongoing and if it’s really well- managed it prevents extraordinarily costly interventions down the track, and not only cost savings - it allows people to have much better quality of life, so as a community we cannot afford not to pay for quality primary care.”
The association is working with peak bodies and other grassroots organisations to help get their message across to the wider community. Some GPs have already signed up to deliver warnings long with prescriptions by way of an anti-Medicare rebate freeze flyers. The material was originally developed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in late 2014 to protest the initial rebate freeze, according the Medical Observer, but has not endorsed its use in this campaign.
“We are worried about people who can’t afford to pay or general practice care, and about the inefficient use of money by spending it too late,” Dr Van Leeuwen said."