The Medicare rebate freeze was a hot topic when Shadow Health Minister Catherine King was in town recently.
Ms King joined Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell on a whirlwind tour of some of Seymour’s major health precincts, including Seymour Health and Seymour Medical Clinic.
‘‘Every community is different, and I really wanted to focus on the health service here in Seymour on this visit,’’ Ms King said.
‘‘Most people do access their health services in their local vicinity, and that’s where they face some of the challenges and I was able to observe a few of those today.
‘‘Despite the government claiming that the freeze is over, the reality is on the ground, it’s still very much there.
‘‘The GPs I spoke to raised that, I didn’t bring that up. I just thought we would go there and have a conversation and the first thing they raised was the ongoing impact of the freeze.
‘‘It has had an impact on their practice in that they have to bill more, and they have not felt as valued in terms of their role in the health care system.
‘‘When you’ve had, in essence, a government that freezes the medicare rebate in the way that it has for six years, it cuts money out of the system, out of hospitals, out of dental, and out of prevention health programs that are being delivered through community health services, and that all has an impact on the ground.
‘‘It’s a decision that has had a very personal impact on the profession providing the service.’’
The freeze effectively means GPs and other medical specialists are being reimbursed the same amount for delivering health services up to 2020 as they were in 2014.
Doctors are paying more for their practices, staff, medical products, utilities and just about anything else that goes into running a medical practice, but the amount paid for medical services is remaining static.
The government is slowly unthawing the Medicare rebate freeze, but at a snail’s pace.
Indexation for Medicare items will be introduced in four stages, and it started with bulk-billing incentives from July 1 this year.
GP’s and specialists will wait another year — until July 1, 2018 — for indexation to start up again for consultations, which make up the vast bulk of general practice revenue.
Indexation for specialist and allied health consultations is slated to start from July 1, 2019.
Certain diagnostic imaging items (such as X-rays) will be the last cab off the rank, and will start up again from July 1, 2020.
However, Ms King said it wasn’t all doom and gloom in Seymour, and she witnessed some impressive facets of the town’s health services on her visit also.
‘‘On a positive note, rural communities just make things work for people, there’s always interesting innovations happening that are different to everywhere else,’’ she said.
‘‘The hospital is trialling a nurse practitioner model which are nurses that have a higher level of training in specialty areas, and that seems to have been really successful here in this community.
‘‘The dialysis unit at Seymour Health is amazing. Dialysis is a terrible thing to go through but it’s a beautiful design over there, probably one of the best dialysis units that I’ve seen.
‘‘There’s lots of speciality services here in Seymour. There’s allied health, aged care, dialysis all on the one site. The coverage of service and the amount services available is really terrific.
‘‘The practices here are doing some great work also. The one I went to today, they’ve expanded their service so they’re now bringing allied health, they are bringing specialists in and they’ve got great nurses doing terrific co-ordination of care and providing people access to the services that they need.
‘‘We (Labor) have started working our way through policies at the moment, and the concerns I have heard from this visit will form a part of those going forward.’’