Hunter GPs welcome government backflip on consultation rebate

Hunter doctors have welcomed news that the federal government has shelved plans to cut the Medicare rebate for general practitioner consultations.

The government announced yesterday that it had scrapped its plan to cut the $20 Medicare rebate for GP consultations shorter than 10 minutes.

Medical professionals across the nation had criticised the plan because of the flow-on effect it would have, either leading to increased traffic in hospital emergency departments or more people needlessly living with poor health.

Hunter General Practitioners Association president Tony Isaac said yesterday’s announcement was welcome news for Hunter GPs.

He said the cut to the rebate would have resulted in higher costs for people to visit GPs and would have led to more people presenting to emergency departments for treatment of minor health problems.

Dr Isaac’s comments came after Hunter New England Health reminded the public last week not to use emergency departments, such as at Maitland Hospital, as free GP services.

“When a doctor keeps a patient out of the emergency department, it’s a saving of thousands of dollars per patient, per day,” Dr Isaac said.

“The vast majority of GPs are good and honourable people – we aren’t trying to rip off Medicare.

“The vast majority will see four patients per hour, with the exception of some nurse-assisted consults.”

Dr Isaac said the region’s GPs still felt threatened by the possibility of government action.

“It’s great that the minister is back consulting with doctors,” he said.

“We are still worried about the freezing of indexation and we’re still worried about a $5 co-payment.”

While GPs had a commitment to patients and the community, Dr Isaac said it was important to remember that GP practices were types of small business, which government cuts could hurt.

“I have about 17 families here that have relied on the wages that come from our practice,” he said.

The rebate cut had been expected to come into force on Monday, but new Health Minister Sussan Ley announced yesterday that the cut would not go ahead and was off the table.