Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rural Doctors Association says Medicare co-payment turns rural doctors into tax collectors bogged down in red tape

Media release
Tuesday 20 May 2014

Co-payment to turn rural doctors into tax collectors,
create more red tape

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) says the Federal Government’s proposed Medicare co-payment will see the already significant pressure on rural doctors increase as they are forced to collect the co-payment on behalf of the Government, meet red tape requirements associated with it, and be called more frequently to their local hospital to treat patients who can’t afford to pay it.

RDAA is also concerned that rural doctors and patients will be caught in the crossfire as the federal and state governments step up their fight over health funding post-budget.

“At a time when the Federal Government is talking about the need to ensure doctors are spending their time treating patients and not filling out endless paperwork, last week’s Medicare co-payment announcement is irony…in capital letters and underlined” said RDAA President, Dr Ian Kamerman.

“Rural doctors and their practice staff will now be forced to negotiate the Medicare co-payment with nearly all the patients they see—including those in nursing homes and from disadvantaged backgrounds—causing yet more stress on doctors and staff, more time lost due to government red tape while waiting times get longer, and quite possibly more financial stress as doctors opt to lose money rather than charge the co-payment to needy patients.

“Then there’s the increased pressure not only on rural hospital emergency departments, but also on the rural doctors who are called to the hospital—at all times of the day and night—to treat patients who can’t afford to be seen by the very same doctor at their general practice due to the co-payment.

“The doctor, already working long hours, may then also need to assess whether they must charge the patient a co-payment at the hospital.

“And once they treat the patient, and finally get to return to their practice or get home from the hospital, they will no doubt need to fill in more forms explaining why they did or did not charge the patient co-payment and the reasons for this.

“There is a real danger that the introduction of co-payments will discourage more doctors from staying in rural practice, and place a further bureaucratic load on those doctors remaining in the bush.

“Coupled with the Federal Government’s decision to scrap the very successful Prevocational General Practice Placements Program (PGPPP)—which many rural doctors have found to be a great way of attracting more doctors to rural practice—this budget risks negating the gains made in rural practice in the past ten years.

“While we appreciate a number of initiatives for rural practice that have been funded in this budget—namely additional funding for those practices teaching medical students and young doctors, and additional funding to support rural practices in building infrastructure to enable that teaching and training to occur—the introduction of the Medicare co-payment and scrapping of the PGPPP has real potential to undo the good work.

“We urge the Federal Government to reconsider the Medicare co-payment proposal and keep the PGPPP. And we urge the federal and state governments to be very mindful of the tremendously damaging impact that any horse-trading around health funding could create for rural practices, rural doctors, rural communities, and rural patients.”

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