You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Govt asked to consider deal on GP freeze

AAP logoAAP 29/09/2016 By Belinda Merhab

Doctors will ask Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to consider a compromise deal to partially lift the Medicare rebate freeze, warning 70 per cent of GPs could hike fees in the next year.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) claims bulk-billing rates have plummeted more than 10 per cent since July as a result of the freeze.

It has released a report showing the number of bulk-billed consultations is at 69 per cent, challenging the federal government's claim they are at record highs.

It shows the average out-of-pocket expense per patient is $49, based on a survey of 10,000 patients.

Doctors want the federal government to consider lifting the freeze for GP consultations only, insisting it would cost the federal budget about $150 million per year to prevent patients being slugged with higher fees to see the doctor.

They've already pitched the idea to Health Minister Sussan Ley and will discuss it with Mr Turnbull at a meeting in October.

They're also seeking a meeting with Treasurer Scott Morrison.

"It's very clear when we spoke to Minister Ley she has done the numbers as well in terms of how much it would cost and her numbers are the same as we have," RACGP president-elect Bastian Seidel told AAP.

"It's not a lot of money considering the impact it would have on funding general practice properly."

Ms Ley said any decision about Medicare funding would be made in the context of the budget.

She rejected the suggestion bulk-billing rates had fallen, citing official figures showing bulk-billing for GP services in 2015/16 reached a record high of 85.1 per cent.

"I am not going to accept that bulk-billing rates are falling because they're not," she told reporters.

Ms Ley travelled to Perth to address the RACGP annual conference on Thursday as she attempts to repair the government's relationship with doctors who were blindsided by the decision to extend the freeze to 2020 in the May budget.

Meanwhile, the RACGP has ramped up its campaign against the freeze with fresh television ads warning patients they are paying more to see the doctor as a result.

The RACGP launched an unprecedented campaign against the freeze in the lead-up to the July 2 election including television ads and posters in doctors' surgeries.

The television ads were paused for several weeks after the election to see if a deal could be reached but resumed two weeks ago out of frustration at the government's inaction.

The RACGP says bulk-billing rates are set to tumble fast over the next 12 months as the frozen rebate leaves doctors struggling to keep up with rising fees.

They say the official bulk-billing figures quoted by the minister are misleading, claiming they include a range of services, not just GP consultations.

They say two thirds of their 33,000 members are considering moving toward mixed billing over the next year, meaning some patients, including pensioners, would still be bulk billed but those who can afford it will be charged higher fees.

Ms Ley used Thursday's speech to extend an olive branch to doctors, telling them the freeze had been tough on the government as well and calling for unity.

"I don't want to be a passenger in our relationship simply signing the cheques.

"It's not going to be easy and it's going to take sacrifice from both sides to reach our desired destination."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon