Editor’s note: The Australian Prayer Network office is closed to allow staff to undertake major prayer assignments in restricted nations. This abridged newsletter was prepared prior to their departure for overseas and may therefore not contain up to date information. Full newsletter service will resume on 24th September.
Surgeons should have to accept a cap on their fees in return for Medicare subsidies, said Terry Barnes, a former Howard Government advisor who kick-started debate about Medicare co-payments. Mr Barnes said Health Minister Peter Dutton should use his negotiations with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) on the government’s proposed $7 Medicare fee to tackle the spiralling fees charged by some specialists. Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute, presented evidence to a Senate inquiry on health costs showing that between 2007 and 2013, out-of-pocket costs for operations increased by more than 25% in real terms, more than any other category of service covered by Medicare.
Mr Barnes said the government should use its power to tackle the problem. “It’s not unreasonable for the government to insist that as a condition of access to Medicare, that doctors cap their out-of-pocket expenses at a fair and reasonable level,” he said. “I think in the current climate, if the AMA particularly is pressuring the government to give ground on the GP co-payment package … then if they are genuinely committed to fairness to patients across the board … they should look at the extent of out-of-pockets and make sure that any patient is charged fairly and reasonably and according to their means.”
Mr Barnes suggested the cap be aligned with the AMA’s schedule of recommended fees, which are higher than the fees paid by Medicare. Mr Barnes said the AMA’s recommended fees should be made public and indexed annually according to an agreed formula. Surgeons who charged above the cap would face penalties, including suspension or loss of their access to Medicare subsidies. Mr Barnes’ call follows the Australasian College of Surgeons issuing a statement expressing concern about some surgeons, including some of its members, charging “extortionate” fees. Mr Dutton said he was in favour of greater disclosure of out-of-pocket costs, and encouraged patients to shop around to avoid excessive fees.
Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler was not available for comment but last month he rejected calls for greater transparency on fees, arguing doctors could not determine fees without seeing the patient. The AMA presented an alternative proposal to Mr Dutton on the fee for GP services, but neither side has been prepared to discuss the details. Mr Dutton said he was confident of securing support from crossbench Senators to pass the measure.