The federal government will make more than 900 amendments to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), reducing the number of health services that it is prepared to subsidise with Medicare rebates.
Although the changes were only announced in early June, they are due to be implemented on July 1, potentially causing chaos for medical practitioners and leaving some patients with substantial out-of-pocket costs.
The adjustments include changes to 594 orthopaedic surgery items, 188 cardiac surgery items and 50 general surgery items.
Former federal health minister Sussan Ley initiated a major review of the MBS Schedule in 2015, led by a taskforce of medical professionals, academics and medical administrators.
The first set of changes to the MBS — relating to subsidies for spinal surgeries — was implemented in 2018.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) criticised the short time frame for medical practitioners to implement the changes. AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said on June 6 that it meant that “no-gap arrangements were not possible or were significantly delayed leading to uncertainty for doctor and patient alike”.
He said that in 2018, “patients were left out of pocket, spinal surgeries were delayed and doctors couldn’t provide patients with informed financial consent about potential gap fees”.
Khorshid and other medical experts are concerned that health funds, hospitals, doctors and patients will not be ready for the changes. Moreover, they are concerned it will increase out-of-pocket costs for patients.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said on June 6 that changes to the Medicare rebate system are another attack on the public health system. Billions in funding has been stripped from the sector by Coalition governments since 2013.
The Coalition has never supported national, publicly funded health care. In 1976, the Malcolm Fraser government abolished the original Medibank scheme which had been introduced by the Labor government under Gough Whitlam.
When the Bob Hawke Labor government brought in Medicare in 1983, the Coalition opposed it and went to four elections — 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1993 — promising to dismantle it
In just eight years, the federal government has significantly cut funding to Medicare, proposed a GP co-payment and reduced bulk-billing opportunities.
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