Press Club appearance to help drive conversation on Medicare reform

Morgan Liotta

7/02/2023 2:56:51 PM

At a critical time for healthcare in Australia, Dr Nicole Higgins will discuss why investment is needed to safeguard the future of general practice.

Dr Nicole Higgins
‘We are in the position where we have to stem the bleeding now,’ says RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins of the crisis general practice is facing.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins is due to take part in this week’s National Press Club of Australia event, presenting the college’s position on Medicare reform and why more support is required for general practice.
The appearance has been scheduled in the wake of last week’s release of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, and will see Dr Higgins be joined by fellow Taskforce member and health economist Dr Stephen Duckett, as well as Dr Kerrie Aust, President-elect of the AMA ACT.
Prior to the panel discussion, Dr Higgins will also be given the opportunity for a brief speech, which she hopes will help reinforce the dual messages that Australia’s health system is in crisis, and that general practice lies at the centre of the solution.
‘The solution is simple: we must invest in general practice,’ Dr Higgins told newsGP.
‘This is definitely a general discussion of explaining what general practice is, what we do and how we do it – and why it needs to be funded better.’
Key solutions Dr Higgins highlights as ‘general principles’ include better funding for general practice and the teams that wrap around it, reducing the rebate gap for patients, and increasing the number of GPs nationwide.
‘We are in the position where we have to stem the bleeding now,’ she said.
‘That can be done through increasing rebates for patients to reduce the gap, and we welcome the acknowledgement of the need to properly fund longer consultations.’
Dr Higgins is also likely to warn that any reform will be ‘killed off’ by the application of payroll tax on tenant doctors, which she says is ‘a double tax for general practice’.
‘General practice already pays payroll tax – this is a tax on Medicare,’ she said.

While the RACGP is still calling for greater reform to secure the future of general practice, it ‘cautiously welcomed’ recommendations in the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, including:

  • funding for longer consultations to reflect the time for chronic and complex care
  • increasing investment to support multidisciplinary teams in general practice that are responsive to local needs – provided that it reinforces the role of GPs as the custodians of patient care
  • ‘blended funding models’ integrated with fee-for-service, including incentives to promote better care for people who need it most
  • introducing a streamlined voluntary patient registration scheme to enable patients to sign up to a practice that receives extra funding to coordinate care
  • better use of data and digital technology to share critical patient information and support superior patient healthcare
  • investment in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to commission primary care services building on their expertise and exploring new funding models that are locally relevant to rural and remote practices
  • investment in primary care research.
But rather than cover the college’s advocacy requests in her Press Club presentation, Dr Higgins plans to help build health system literacy and simplify the message about the future of Medicare and the chance GPs have to drive change.
‘It’s really important to say that Australia’s health system is recognised as one of the best in the world,’ she said.
‘But the problem is general practice is not funded … we’re being asked to do more for less, and GPs can no longer afford to subsidise patient care.’

Dr Higgins is also keen to acknowledge the work that has gone into the college occupying a prominent position in recent Medicare reform and payroll tax media coverage, which she described as an important part of ongoing advocacy efforts.
‘This is a real chance for the RACGP to do a shout out,’ she said.
‘This is really amazing stuff [and] is recognition of the hard work that we’ve all put in. We should be shouting off the rooftop.’
Dr Higgins’ appearance will be broadcast on ABC24 and iView at 12.30 – 1.30 pm.
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Dr John Christie   8/02/2023 6:27:40 AM

The governments answer to save Medicare is to offload general practice work to non Drs hoping that this will be a cheaper alternative. Really?

Dr Lisa O'Rourke   8/02/2023 1:44:06 PM

We should give one simple message - Medicare rebates need to be in simple 5 minute increments at 2023 prices and indexed to cpi . Then we can all tout the same message to all of our politicians and ptts . Politicians make this really complex and we get drawn into their arguments and talk about the problems rather than the solutions or talk about vague Gand varied goals which allow them to continue destroying Medicare and general practice . If the AMA & RACGP agreed on one concise message - eg $35=5 minutes of GP - or $7 / minute all consults are timed . Rural GPs are offered incentives for hardship eg parental / leave entitlement travel / study entitlements - support drs to keep being drs at the heart of keeping Australians healthy - the rest is peripheral . Stick to the sound bite so we can play their game without being so naive to media’s ability to pick the story - no other words they can twist .

Dr Qi Rong Huang   8/02/2023 8:47:40 PM

The Dr Nicole's points sound very academic, not what GPs are concerned about.

Dr Andrew Milne   9/02/2023 9:33:09 PM

Level the playing field and there will be an equal number of GP's to hospital based doctors. Offer GP's the same incomes and benefits as hospital based doctors. The only way I can see to do this currently is to increase the medicare rebates for GP item numbers to reflect our time and work loads. GPs will not be able to drive change if there are no GPs left to speak up.