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If GPs pass on cost from rebate freeze, poorer, sicker patients will be hardest hit

Rosemary Elkins and Stefanie Schurer write in The Conversation (31.1.17) about how the federal government’s proposed Medicare rebate indexation freeze will hit hardest for people with the poorest health, greatest need for primary healthcare and least capacity to afford increases in the cost of visiting a GP.

‘Not even a fortnight in the job and the newly appointed health minister, Greg Hunt, is already facing pressure from medical organisations to scrap the controversial freeze on Medicare rebate indexation.

‘Most Australians will remember the series of ill-fated co-payment policies proposed by the Abbott government. The “$7 co-payment” and its short-lived successors were abandoned in the face of sustained public backlash. Though Abbott eventually declared the policy “dead, buried and cremated”, the Medicare rebate freeze has been labelled a GP co-payment “by stealth”.

‘The freeze, first implemented by Labor and twice extended by the Coalition, means bulk-billing doctors will receive the same reimbursement for a consultation in 2020 as they did in 2014, despite the increasing year-on-year cost of delivering services.

‘The freeze means many more Australians may soon be charged out-of-pocket co-payments to consult their GP, as bulk-billing practices struggle to absorb the widening gap between income generated by the frozen rebate (A$37.05 for a standard consultation) and the rising cost of running a practice.’

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