End of the big freeze signals shift towards preventative healthcare

30 May, 2017

RACGP says the end of the Medicare rebate freeze signals a pivot - a genuine commitment by the Australian Government to reinvest in preventative health and general practice - the most health effective and cost efficient part of the entire healthcare system.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Bastian Seidel said thanks to the recent Budget GP bulk-billing incentives will be re-indexed in line with wages and inflation from July. Patient rebates for specialist GPs will be re-indexed from 2018–19.

"While this ongoing guarantee of the same funding each year in real terms may seem like a step back to where we were before the big freeze - it's a clear win for over 85% of Australians who receive preventative health services from their GPs each and every year," Dr Seidel said.

"Extending the freeze to 2020 would have seen rebate funding reduced by over $1 billion. It's also a win for all taxpayers as GP health services not only cost up to 10 times less than similar care in a hospital they also help reduce expensive hospital admissions.

"Our agreement with the Australian Government to help strengthen Medicare recognises the essential role of GPs in a system that touches every Australian. It reaffirms the Australian Government's, and our own, commitment to preventative health initiatives including the review of the Medicare Benefits Scheme, improving the quality and reducing the cost of after-hours services and workforce reform to streamline pathways for becoming a GP.

"As the holistic experts in prevention, treatment and care, GPs focus on the whole person rather than the disease. We understand that patients want health and that's not necessarily delivered through treatment. With the ever increasing costs of medications to treat specific conditions we can help reduce ballooning healthcare costs by helping to prevent those conditions in the first place.

"Improved access and comprehensive consultations will lead to less prescribing of expensive medication, less initiation of pathology and diagnostic imaging and last but not least, fewer hospital admissions.

"Australia's health system is far too hospital centric. While hospitals in Australia are of the highest standard they are extraordinarily expensive to run.

"The total recurrent health expenditure for public hospital services alone is over $45 billion per year. More than $18 billion of that is contributed by the Australian Government. The remainder is contributed privately and by the states.

"The cost of private hospitals is over $12 billion per year. Most of that is covered by private health insurance which again is subsidised by over $6.3 billion per year from the taxpayer.

"Compare that with the $7 billion per year the Australian Government spends on GP care in this country. All in all, it sounds like GP healthcare is a 21st century bargain basement special.

"Despite best efforts and increased funding over the years, hospitals are now at breaking point. Waiting lists are getting longer by the week. There are now waiting lists to be on waiting lists. The variability of hospital care and treatment is making national headlines on a daily basis.

"A minute of theatre time at one hospital in Perth is budgeted at $160. So, the cost of 2 minutes of theatre time is more than what the Australian Government spends on Medicare for a patient seeking GP care - not per minute - but for an entire year.

"We need to work towards fewer procedures. We need less treatment. We need to focus on maintaining health. We need to focus on prevention. And that has to happen in local communities with GPs, not in hospitals.

"On Budget night Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, was spot on when he said "the Holy Grail is to transform avoidable hospital admissions into avoided hospital admissions."

"We could not agree more and that is one of the many keys to delivering Australians the finest healthcare system in the world."