Federal Government not considering removing Medicare rebate for after hours GPs despite doctors’ fears


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THE Federal Government has refuted claims it is considering removing the Medicare rebate for after-hours doctor home visits – despite fears it could affect more than 2000 people in the Swan federal electorate.

The National Home Doctor Service released the data amid concerns over the potential loss of the Medicare rebate in the Government’s Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) review, a decade after former Prime Minister John Howard introduced the benefit to Medicare.

National Home Doctor Service chief medical officer Dr Umberto Russo said several thousand people in Swan were likely to be affected based on the number who used the service in the past financial year.

“Doctor home visits are an essential Medicare service and are vital for the most vulnerable people in our community, such as children and the elderly,” he said.

“In the federal electorate of Swan, almost one-third of home visit patients were children under 15 years of age.”

Dr Russo said if home visits were not available, more families would go to emergency departments for non-emergency health concerns that could not wait for treatment until business hours.

“The cost to the health system of a doctor home visit is $128, while the cost to the health system of patient being treated in an emergency department is $368 on average, and much more when an ambulance is called,” he said.

Dr Russo cited a report by Deloitte Access Economics which found without access to after-hours doctor home visits, the cost to the health system would be $724 million higher than the four years of budget-forward estimates.

Home doctors with the National Association of Medical Deputising Services have started a campaign called Protect Home Visits, which has been joined by more than 40,000 people.

A Federal Department of Health spokeswoman said the Government had not considered removing the Medicare Benefit Schedule rebate for the after-hours services.

She said the Government was concerned about reports from GPs over the use of higher rebate items claimed for minor and non-urgent health matters, which could be better handled the following day when the patient’s medical practice was open.

“Growth in the use of urgent after-hours items has been noted by the independent clinician-led MBS Review Taskforce,” she said.

The Taskforce is reviewing all 5700 items on the schedule and the group’s recommendations will be subject to consultation before Government assesses the findings.

Urgent after-hour services represented 21 per cent of all after-hour attendances in WA, but accounted for almost 40 per cent of the benefits paid for all after-hour services in 2015-16.

“This compares to the 2011-12 financial year, where urgent after-hours accounted for only 10 per cent of all after-hours attendances, and 23 per cent of the benefits paid for all after-hour services,” the Federal Health spokeswoman said.