Mixed reactions to Medicare overhaul

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday June 8, 2021

Half a million Australians in 2019 paid an average of $450 on out of pocket specialist costs.  (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Labor has accused the Morrison government of using Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdown as an opportunity to make ‘ruthless’ cuts to Medicare.

From July 1, more than 900 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), including general, orthopaedic, and cardiac surgery, will be changed following a five-year review.

Over the weekend, Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid voiced concerns with the overhaul, describing it as the biggest ‘in the history of Medicare’.

“The problem that we’re seeing, and the problem that we’re calling out today is that government have only just released these new changes to the schedule in the last week or so, leaving only a few weeks for doctors, health funds and others to determine what their fees are and what the arrangements will be for the future,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“The changes to the schedule are quite significant … But the bigger problem is the chaos that’s going to ensue because doctors can’t tell patients how much they can expect to receive back from their health fund because they simply don’t know.”

Shadow minister for health and ageing Mark Butler on Monday backed the AMA’s warning, and accused the federal government of using the pandemic to rush through cuts to Medicare.

“Scott Morrison has launched the biggest attack on Medicare in decades. Under the cover of an understandable national focus on the Victorian COVID-19 outbreak, Scott Morrison has snuck out almost 1,000 changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule,” he said.

“Australians that are already suffering are being punished even further because of Scott Morrison’s ruthless Medicare cuts. Patients have been left in limbo for months waiting to know if their procedure will still be covered or what changes will be made. Patients now face the prospect of life-changing surgeries being cancelled at the last minute, or being landed with huge bills they didn’t expect.”

But former commonwealth health secretary Professor Stephen Duckett has supported the proposed changes, telling The Feed they were ‘quite reasonable’.

“It’s not a fundamental attack on Medicare at all,” he said.

However, Duckett, who is now health and aged care program director at the Grattan Institute, has agreed that the implementation of the overhaul was been rushed.

“I think the government could say ‘whoops, we should have actually given a bit more notice, and you’re going to have three months notice not six weeks’,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Consumers Health Forum has also weighed in on the matter, calling on the government to consider a ‘short pause’ on introducing the changes to help consumers and doctors prepare. The organisation’s CEO, Leanne Wells, noted that patients’ financial expectations about their already booked surgeries would need to change as a result of the proposed amendments.

“There is merit in the AMA’s suggestion that there is a short delay to implementation so that doctors and patients can get ready. That would allow time for development of responses such as the content for new informed financial consent conversations,” she said on Monday.

“If the changes result in some consumers facing high or higher out of pocket costs, there needs to be independent and accessible information available for consumers to understand why they might pay more.

“These changes once again highlight the importance of fee transparency for consumers. A simple explainer detailing what procedures are affected and setting out the reasons for cost changes should be made available to consumers requiring medical procedures.”


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