RACGP President calls on Labor to fix the freeze

Doug Hendrie

14/02/2019 3:14:41 PM

Dr Harry Nespolon has called on the Federal Opposition to commit to undoing the damage of the Medicare rebate freeze.

Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King pointed the finger at the Liberal Party for the Medicare freeze in her first speech to the National Press Club.
Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King pointed the finger at the Liberal Party for the Medicare freeze in her first speech to the National Press Club.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon told newsGP that now is the time for Labor to ‘start stumping up’.
‘[Opposition leader Bill] Shorten has said Labor is the party of Medicare. If so, it’s time they start stumping up,’ he said.
‘Platitudes don’t pay the bills.’
Dr Nespolon’s comments come after Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King blamed the Liberal Party for the Medicare freeze in her first speech to the National Press Club in Canberra earlier this week.
‘When the Federal Liberals imposed a six-year Medicare freeze, they knew they’d make GP visits less affordable and drive thousands more Australians into public hospital emergency departments,’ she said.
Ms King said the freeze had driven up out-of-pocket costs for both GP and specialist visits, leading to more than one million people delaying or avoiding medical care. Her speech was widely seen as preparing the ground for a new version of its effective 2016 so-called ‘Mediscare’ campaign.
The speech came after Dr Nespolon last week publicly pointed out that Labor actually began the Medicare rebate freeze in 2013.
‘It’s a little disingenuous to say the Liberals have responsibility for the freeze, when it was the ALP who started it,’ he said.
‘So we will continue to say, if Labor is serious about supporting Medicare, undo the damage of the rebate freeze.
‘It’s difficult when you contrast this with the immediate support for the Community Pharmacy Agreements, which are worth $14 billion over five years. To truly unfreeze the rebate, it would cost around $1 billion to keep our primary care system world class and maintain access for patients to GPs.
‘Ms King said there needs to be a change in the way general practice operates, which we strongly agree with. But it was high on platitudes, low on actual cash.’
By contrast, Dr Nespolon said Labor’s proposed Australian Health Reform Commission is a positive step.
‘It’s good they’re taking a long term view to healthcare reform and we would strongly support this commission,’ he said.
‘One of the greatest impediments to healthcare in this country are state and federal issues and if this works towards fixing it, that’s great.’
But Dr Nespolon warned that modelling the proposed new body on the Productivity Commission, as Ms King outlined in her speech, has its risks.
‘Unfortunately, all the Productivity Commission can do is recommend rather than actually do something,’ he said. ‘But, regardless, this is the right thinking.’
The proposed Australian Health Reform Commission would be intended to address challenges such as chronic disease management, workforce issues, cost barriers and hospital waiting times, and would be directed through the Council of Australian Governments.
In her speech, Ms King acknowledged that no single minister could solve Australia’s healthcare problems.
‘They’re simply too big. We have to work together. Moreover, the Commission’s recommendations will be public, and governments will ignore them at their own peril,’ she said.
Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform, Dr Michael Wright, said the primary care profession has previously been burned by earlier reviews describing the importance of general practice without funding. 
‘We have seen a number of reviews highlighting the importance of strengthening the role of general practice in the health system, but funding has not followed these findings,’ he said. 
‘We hope this announcement represents the start of a true commitment to making this reform happen for our patients.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told AAP the proposed new commission would ‘create a bureaucratic roadblock’.
‘Under our long-term national health plan we will continue to deliver record funding for Medicare, public hospitals, mental health, medical research and also providing access to all medicines recommended by the experts,’ he said.

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Jo   15/02/2019 1:45:39 PM

Honest and to the point recommendation is highly appreciated

James   4/05/2019 9:30:42 AM

I'm deeply concerned at the RACGP constantly attacking Labor and yet letting the LNP get away with freezing the medicare rebate for 6 years!!! Where were the attacks then? As a member of RACGP, this current president has shown he does not have the interests of GPs at heart but his own political ideations.
Maybe ... start to call out all sides of politics for their lack of investment in primary health, especially the party that has been in power for the last 6 years.