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Turnbull Government considering unfreezing Medicare rebates

Medicine, Optometry, The Business of Health, The Health Industry

Health Minister Greg Hunt appears to be considering a deal with the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to unwind the Medicare rebate freeze. Minister Hunt says he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will review the rebate in a move that could cost more than $3 billion. There’s a speculation that there may be a reversal of the freeze of Medicare rebates in the upcoming May budget.

In an interview on RN Drive, Minister Hunt said that one of his fundamental task is strengthening Medicare and working with the doctors. There are many things that can strengthen Medicare, and firstly, confidence in the relationship between the Australian Government and the medical community. He said that collaboration with the doctors can produce better outcomes, but also medium to long term savings.

In December 2016, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) stated that only 64.7% of patients were fully bulk-billed for all of their GP services in 2015-16, contrary to the Federal Government’s ongoing claims that the bulk billing rate is at 83.7%.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said that financially vulnerable patients who first delay seeing their GP will eventually call an ambulance or present to emergency departments at a much greater cost to the taxpayer.

President of Optometry Australia, Andrew Hogan, said that it was “Optometry Australia’s expectation that any move to lift the freeze on Medicare rebates would also extend to optometry. Optometry was affected by the freeze introduced across the MBS in 2014, coupled by an across the board cut to the MBS rebate for all optometry services in 2015.

Mr Hogan said that they are seeking an opportunity to discuss the freeze lifting with Minister Hunt in the lead up to the Federal budget. Optometry Australia needs to emphasize the impact of this freeze on Australia’s optometrists and their patients, and for the Government to recognise the importance of preventative eye health care.

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